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Letter: Nobel went to the right scientists

Dr. Raymond Damadian on April 29, 2016.

Dr. Raymond Damadian on April 29, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Every so often, the claim resurfaces that Dr. Raymond Damadian should have received, or at least shared, the 2003 Nobel Prize awarded to Paul Lauterbur, who did his work at Stony Brook University, and Peter Mansfield, for their seminal discoveries that led to the development of modern magnetic resonance imaging. They were not “theoreticians,” as Newsday writes, but excellent, imaginative experimentalists who knew theory backward and forward [“A Long Islander’s very cool invention,” News, May 15].

As a working nuclear magnetic resonance-MRI scientist familiar with the evolution of theory and practice during that era and since, I wholeheartedly support the Nobel committee’s choice to give the 2003 prize in physiology or medicine to Lauterbur and Mansfield. I’m willing to bet that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community does, too.

Damadian wanted to build a useful MRI scanner, but in choosing among the then-available technologies, he picked the wrong one. If you put a sack of grapefruit into the magnetic field of an NMR spectrometer, it will give you an NMR signal. If the field is not of uniform strength, and if you move the sack, the signal will change. You can plot the change and call it an image, but it’s neither reproducible nor quantifiable.

Damadian couldn’t get reliable quantitative results, and he abandoned that idea.

Lauterbur solved the problem of mapping the receiver amplitude/frequency one-to-one with the water proton distribution by using controlled, reproducible linear field gradients, and obtained unambiguous, quantitative cross-sectional images. This was the breakthrough, as reported in Nature in 1972, and the basis for all MRI today.

Arnold Wishnia, Setauket

Editor’s note: The writer is a research associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University.