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MRI Machines Make Music

For the next nine days, I’ll be hanging out in the City of Brotherly Love at the University of Pennsylvania learning about neuroscience for upcoming C&EN coverage. Today was the first day of the Neuroscience Boot Camp, and my brain is already feeling more fit. For you Twitterati out there, you can follow the goings on at #neurobootcamp.

Yesterday afternoon, boot campers got an introduction to neuroimaging, learning about positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging, a “workhorse” brain imaging technique, according to Martha J. Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist here at Penn.

When talking about how an MRI machine works, Geoffrey K. Aguirre, a neurologist at Penn, discussed the origin of the noises it makes when scanning a patient’s brain. The noises arise from the multiple sets of magnetic coils that loop around the machine; patients are threaded through the center. One set of coils induces the main magnetic field in the machine, but the other sets of coils are there to enable users to create gradients in the field. Because the magnets are so strong, the forces between them are also large, inducing the coils to expand and contract at a frequency that causes the MRI noise.

Now why do Newscripts readers care about this? Well, Aguirre says that “MR physicists are a goofy lot.” When left to their own devices working late at night, he explains, they sometimes tweak the gradients in the magnetic fields in just the right way to generate music. Take, for instance, the video above of an MRI machine playing “Smoke on the Water.”

In recent news from the BBC, two composers drew inspiration from MRI noise to write music with an orchestra. Add some crazy lights, and you’ve got a multimedia MRI experience. Click here to check out the story and video.

1 Comment

  • Aug 2nd 201114:08
    by Lila Guterman

    Lauren, that video is hilarious.

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