Paul C. Lauterbur
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2003
Born: 6 May 1929, Sidney, OH, USA
Died: 27 March 2007, Urbana, IL, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, USA
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging."
Prize share: 1/2
Protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus behave like small spinning magnets. Accordingly, atoms and molecules assume a certain orientation in a magnetic field. This can be dislodged, however, by radio waves of certain frequencies that are characteristic for different atoms. By introducing variations in the magnetic field during the 1970s, Paul Lauterbur contributed to use of the phenomenon to create images of the human body's interior. The incidence of hydrogen atoms is measured and differences in the water content of different tissues provides a basis for magnetic resonance imaging.