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Physics Coursework, Visit to Holly House

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Edward Amoroso

Physics Coursework, Visit to Holly House Hospital, February 2005

We visited Holly House Hospital on 26th January 2005 to look at how physics is used in the medical profession, and how it is used in medical diagnosis. Whilst being shown around the separate radiology unit at the hospital, I noticed how Magnetic Resonance Imaging used different ways to look within patients, and helped specialists to try to diagnose and treat internal problems.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI was discovered in July 1977. French scientists discovered that using powerful electromagnetic fields and radio waves could produce images. The machine in which the patient is placed is very large. Most machines are so large that they completely fill up an entire room. The standard size of a scanner is 7 feet tall by 7 feet wide by 10 feet long, with a hole in the middle that is only just large enough to fit a patient inside. On top of this hole, and running through the whole scanner is a magnet, which is known as the ‘bore’. The patient enters the bore lying on his/her back on a special table, which has the ability to move in and out of the bore. Many patients find the examination very uncomfortable, as they have to lay still for about half an hour whilst the scan takes place.

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The entire MRI scanner installation is enclosed in a stainless steel or copper shield known as a Faraday cage which blocks out radio frequency signals from local radio and TV stations that might influence the MRI signals.


How the pictures are taken

The human body is made up of billions of different atoms. The nuclei of these atoms spin around randomly, and the main atom that MRI focuses on is the hydrogen atom. The hydrogen atom is ideal because its nucleus has a single proton and it has a very large magnetic moment. The large moment means that when placed in a magnetic field, the hydrogen atom has a strong tendency to line up with the direction of the field. As the magnet runs along the scanner in the same direction as the body, the magnetic field therefore does the same. The atoms will line up in the direction of either the feet or the head. Many of the atoms cancel out, but as there are so many billions, there are still enough to produce astounding images.


Radio Waves

The MRI machine then applies a radio frequency to the body that is specific only to hydrogen. These waves are directed at the part of the body that is needed to be examined.

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A small head scanner.


The patient is receiving treatment on his left knee. This is a new type of scanner that is significantly smaller, and therefore has more advantages.


The almost limitless benefits of MRI for most patients far outweigh the few drawbacks. MRI scanning has revolutionised medical imaging, and has helped to treat many patients who could not be treated in any other way. MRI uses physics techniques that have been identified above to overcome problems where CAT scanners could not do so as well. It is an extremely safe method of imaging, and the technology is rapidly advancing, which will only make this method better.





Holly House Hospital MRI Consent Form






‘Economics of the NHS’ BBC2 7th February

‘Medical Physics’ by Martin Hollins, pages 186 - 187

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