Peter Mansfield

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 2 Aug 2021

Sir Peter Mansfield (1933-2017) was an English physicist best known for his research into, and development of MRI, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003 1.

Peter Mansfield was born on the 9 October, 1933 in Lambeth, London. His father, Sidney worked as a gas fitter while his mother, Rose, was a waitress 2,3. Mansfield’s education ended at age 15, leaving school to work in a printing firm as a printer’s assistant. Due to an interest in rocket technology, Mansfield began working at the Ministry of Supply and after 18 months there he was called up for national service 2.

Post military service

After his two years in military service, Mansfield conducted night classes, studying science and eventually beginning a physics degree at the Queen Mary College in London 2.

It was during his BSc study that he met Jack Powles, a nuclear magnetic resonance physicist who supervised his undergraduate project into transistor-based spectroscopy, measuring the earth’s magnetic fields. Powles eventually offered Peter a position in his nuclear magnetic resonance research group 1-3.

Mansfield was awarded a PhD in 1962, with his final thesis titled ‘Proton magnetic resonance relaxation in solids by transient methods’ 4.

During his PhD work, Mansfield observed an ‘echo’ in solid structures after exposure to nuclear magnetic resonance excitation pulses 1. This discovery resulted in Charles Slichter, a nuclear magnetic resonance scientist, to invite Mansfield to conduct his postdoctoral research at the University of Illinois in Urbana. He stayed in the States until 1964 when he returned to the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. It was here that Mansfield continued his research into multi-pulse nuclear magnetic resonance, and in 1972, postulated that nuclear magnetic resonance might be a viable tool to study crystalline structures 2,3.

When applying a gradient magnetic field to camphor between plastic, Mansfield was able to measure the nuclear magnetic resonance spectrum. Using Fourier transform, he found these values could be reconstructed into an image. Coincidentally, another scientist by the name of Paul Lauterbur was conducting similar experiments using a rotating gradient magnetic field to in turn produce images of liquid. Hearing of these experiments, Mansfield was inspired to do the same. Over time, Mansfield invented line-scan imaging, a ground-breaking concept that allows specific slices of material to be imaged via nuclear magnetic resonance.

1977 saw the first cross-sectional MRI image of a student’s finger using a small scale machine. This opened doors to funding, allowing them to build a full-size machine 2.

Mansfield had his abdomen scanned using line-scan MRI. Interestingly, no one was brave enough to have a scan due to fear of the magnetic field inducing a myocardial infarction.

A significant flaw in Mansfield’s eyes was the speed with which an MRI produces images, and in 1977 he invented a technique where fast switching magnetic field gradients could be used to form an image significantly faster, known as echo-planar imaging.

The first clinical scanner was built in 1980 and made available for clinical use in 1984.

Sir Peter Mansfield had two daughters to Jean Margaret Kibble. He passed away on the 8 February 2017 in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

Peter Mansfield held the following academic appointments.

  • Research Associate in Physics at the University of Illinois (1962)
  • Lecturer in Physics at the University of Nottingham (1964)
  • Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Nottingham (1968)
  • Senior Visitor at the Max Planck Institute for medical research (1972-1973)
  • Professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham (1979)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society (1987)
  • Knighthood (1993)
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared with Paul Lauterbur 'for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging' (2003)
  • development of MRI

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