University of Pittsburgh
October 5, 2003

Pitt Alumnus Named 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate In Physiology or Medicine


PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh alumnus Paul C. Lauterbur was selected to receive the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Sir Peter Mansfield of the University of Nottingham. The prize was announced today by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet.

Lauterbur is professor of chemistry, biophysics, and computational biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Mansfield, who was knighted in 1993, is professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Nottingham, in England.

Their work on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the 1970s led to its modern use as a noninvasive and painless medical diagnostic tool. More than 60 million MRI examinations are performed worldwide each year.

Lauterbur, who earned the Ph.D. degree in chemistry from Pitt in 1962, created two-dimensional structural images in 1973 by introducing gradients into a magnetic field, then recording the emitted radio waves. MRI relies on the changing properties of water when exposed to a magnetic field, and water constitutes about 66 percent of the human body.

"There is no form of scientific recognition that could more appropriately celebrate his contributions to science and society," said N. John Cooper, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. "Dr. Lauterbur's invention of MRI is a wonderful story of how someone with vision can take what seemed at the time to be arcane spectroscopy and translate it into a technology that has transformed the practice of medicine."

According to the Nobel Assembly, Lauterbur and Mansfield were awarded the prize for crucial achievements in the development of applications of medical importance. Mansfield improved the differentiation of the images created, adding to sharpness, which became crucial in clinical practice. MRI is used to examine almost all organs of the body, and is especially valuable for detailed imaging of the brain and spinal cord.