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Principles of nuclear magnetic resonance for medical application

Seminars in Nuclear Medicine
Elsevier - WB Saunders
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0001-2998(83)80043-9
  • Physics


Several important components must be combined to create an effective nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging system. The most imposing component is the magnet itself, which is most often either resistive or superconducting. In addition, the magnetic field gradient, radiofrequency (RF) coil, spectrometer, computer, and display system are critical factors that require special consideration before selecting an NMR system for a particular clinical usage. Although nuclear magnetic resonance and nuclear decay share a common object of interest (the nucleus), a number of differences between resonance and decay phenomena relating to information content and imaging techniques can be discussed. First, in NMR the frequency, and hence energy, of the detected electromagnetic radiation from a given nuclear type is dependent critically on the magnetic and molecular environment of the stimulated nuclei. This is contrasted to the situation in nuclear decay reactions, where the energy of gamma or positron emission is only weakly dependent on local factors. Thus in NMR, molecular information can be acquired without the use of external tracer molecules. In NMR energy exchange mechanisms (relaxation) take place on a microscopic scale. and hence local information is acquired by measuring relaxation times. Furthermore, the frequency output of an NMR experiment is transmitted to the detector with little change from its surroundings. This again differs from nuclear decay, where the observed spread of detected energies is a complex function of numerous interactions among the emitted radiation, the surrounding matter, and the detector, and energy exchange processes are spread in a random fashion over a large volume. However, this relative lack of interaction with matter in NMRs (RF) output comes at a price of sensitivity, since the energy laval is orders of magnitude lower than that of γ photons. In addition, the much longer wavelengths associated with such low energy radiation (on the order of meters) makes simple collimation used in γ cameras impossible, and hence more complex means need to be used to locate the emitted signal spatially. Overall, the differences between NMR and nuclear decay are likely to lead to a complementary, rather than conflicting, relationship between the two sciences, with advantages to each depending on the questions being investigated. Which problems are best studied with what technique is an open question at this stage of development of NMR.

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