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1. Inside the Brain: Hacks 1–12 > 4. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging: The...

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging: The State of the Art

fMRI produces high-resolution animations of the brain in action.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is the king of brain imaging. Magnetic resonance imaging is noninvasive and has no known side effects—except, for some, claustrophobia. Having an MRI scan requires you to lie inside a large electromagnet in order to be exposed to the high magnetic field necessary. It’s a bit like being slid inside a large white coffin. It gets pretty noisy too.

The magnetic field pushes the hydrogen atoms in your brain into a state in which they all “line up” and spin at the same frequency. A radio frequency pulse is applied at this exact frequency, making the molecules “resonate” and then emit radio waves as they lose energy and return to “normal.” The signal emitted depends on what type of tissue the molecule is in. By recording these signals, a 3D map of the anatomy of the brain is built up.


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