Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is primarily a medical imaging technique most commonly used in Radiology to visualize the structure and function of the body. It provides detailed images of the body in any plane. MRI provides much greater contrast between the different soft tissues of the body than does computed tomography (CT), making it especially useful in neurological (brain), musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and oncological (cancer) imaging. Unlike CT it uses no ionizing radiation, but uses a powerful magnetic field to align the nuclear magnetization of (usually) hydrogen atoms in water in the body. Radiofrequency fields are used to systematically alter the alignment of this magnetization, causing the hydrogen nuclei to produce a rotating magnetic field detectable by the scanner. This signal can be manipulated by additional magnetic fields to build up enough information to reconstruct an image of the body.
MRI is a relatively new technology, which has been in widespread use for less than 20 years (compared with over 100 years for X-rays). The first MR Image was published in 1973 and the first study performed on a human took place on July 3, 1977.
Magnetic resonance imaging was developed from knowledge gained in the study of nuclear magnetic resonance. In its early years the technique was referred to as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI). However, as the word nuclear was associated in the public mind with ionizing radiation exposure it is generally now referred to simply as MRI. Scientists still use the term NMRI when discussing non-medical devices operating on the same principles. One of the contributors to modern MRI, Paul Lauterbur, originally named the technique zeugmatography, a Greek term meaning "that which is used for joining". The term referred to the interaction between the static and the gradient magnetic fields necessary to create an image, but this term was not adopted.