Medical Phillips MRI scanner


A magnetic resonance imaging instrument (MRI scanner), or "nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging" scanner as it was originally known, uses powerful magnets to polarize and excite hydrogen nuclei (single proton) in water molecules in human tissue, producing a detectable signal which is spatially encoded, resulting in images of the body. The MRI machine emits an RF (radio frequency) pulse that specifically binds only to hydrogen. The system sends the pulse to the area of the body to be examined. The pulse makes the protons in that area absorb the energy needed to make them spin in a different direction. This is the "resonance" part of MRI. The RF pulse makes them (only the one or two extra unmatched protons per million) spin at a specific frequency, in a specific direction. The particular frequency of resonance is called the Larmour frequency and is calculated based on the particular tissue being imaged and the strength of the main magnetic field. MRI uses three electromagnetic fields: a very strong (on the order of units of Tesla) static magnetic field to polarize the hydrogen nuclei, called the static field; a weaker time-varying (on the order of 1 kHz) field(s) for spatial encoding, called the gradient field(s); and a weak radio-frequency (RF) field for manipulation of the hydrogen nuclei to produce measurable signals, collected through an RF antenna.[1]

Like CT, MRI traditionally creates a two dimensional image of a thin "slice" of the body and is therefore considered a tomographic imaging technique. Modern MRI instruments are capable of producing images in the form of 3D blocks, which may be considered a generalization of the single-slice, tomographic, concept. Unlike CT, MRI does not involve the use of ionizing radiation and is therefore not associated with the same health hazards. For example, because MRI has only been in use since the early 1980s, there are no known long-term effects of exposure to strong static fields (this is the subject of some debate; see 'Safety' in MRI) and therefore there is no limit to the number of scans to which an individual can be subjected, in contrast with X-ray and CT. However, there are well-identified health risks associated with tissue heating from exposure to the RF field and the presence of implanted devices in the body, such as pace makers. These risks are strictly controlled as part of the design of the instrument and the scanning protocols used.

Because CT and MRI are sensitive to different tissue properties, the appearance of the images obtained with the two techniques differ markedly. In CT, X-rays must be blocked by some form of dense tissue to create an image, so the image quality when looking at soft tissues will be poor. In MRI, while any nucleus with a net nuclear spin can be used, the proton of the hydrogen atom remains the most widely used, especially in the clinical setting, because it is so ubiquitous and returns a large signal. This nucleus, present in water molecules, allows the excellent soft-tissue contrast achievable with MRI.

Requlatory Standards

American College of Radiology (ACR) physics committee develops accreditation criteria and healthcare standards based on quantitative measurements using a QA phantom.

Qualitative measurements

These quantitative tests include but are not limited to:

  • Geometric accuracy
  • slice thickness
  • high contrast spatial resolution
  • slice position
  • uniformity
  • ghosting
  • low contrast object detection
  • other
    • center frquency
    • helium levels
    • popcorn noise
    • daily QA[2]
    • denotes other service related testing


  1. FDA. "Medical Imaging." 06/05/2014.
  2. MRI QA. ACR Guidelines.


MRI Design Guide by Department of Veterans Affairs