Resonance and radiofrequency

Last revised by Andrew Murphy on 2 Apr 2020

Protons in a magnetic field have a microscopic magnetization and act like tiny toy tops that wobble as they spin. The rate of the wobbling or precession is the resonance or Larmor frequency. In the magnetic field of an MRI scanner at room temperature, there is approximately the same number of proton nuclei aligned with the main magnetic field B0 as counter aligned. The aligned position is slightly favored, as the nucleus is at a lower energy in this position. For every one million nuclei, there is about one extra aligned with the B0 field as opposed to the field. This results in a net or macroscopic magnetization pointing in the direction of the main magnetic field. Exposure of individual nuclei to radiofrequency (RF) radiation (B1 field) at the Larmor frequency causes nuclei in the lower energy state to jump into the higher energy state.

On a macroscopic level, exposure of an object or person to RF radiation at the Larmor frequency, causes the net magnetization to spiral away from the B0 field. In the rotating frame of reference, the net magnetization vector rotates from a longitudinal position a distance proportional to the time length of the RF pulse. After a certain length of time, the net magnetization vector rotates 90 degrees and lies in the transverse or x-y plane. It is in this position that the net magnetization can be detected on MRI. The angle that the net magnetization vector rotates is commonly called the 'flip' or 'tip' angle. At angles greater than or less than 90 degrees there will still be a small component of the magnetization that will be in the x-y plane, and therefore be detected.

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