1936, Forest Hills, NY
Although the Nobel Prize committee can award up to three prizes for an invention, it decided not to include Damadian when it granted prizes to chemist Paul Lauterbur and physicist Sir Peter Mansfield for the invention and improvement of MRI.
Photos: Fonar Corporation
An underdog physician showed chemists and physicists a new way to look inside the human body -- and diagnose illnesses.
Raymond Damadian made an important contribution to the fields of science and medicine when he built the first nuclear magnetic resonance (N.M.R.) body scanner in July 1977. Born in New York in 1936, Damadian studied violin at the Julliard School of Music and worked summers as a tennis pro on Long Island. He turned away from music when it became clear he would never find fame as a soloist. A math and science whiz, Damadian studied mathematics and chemistry as an undergraduate, then, aspiring to cure cancer, he became a doctor.
Looking Inside the Body
Damadian's research interests led him to experiment with N.M.R. technology, exposing atomic nuclei to a magnetic field in order to cause the emission of radio waves at consistent frequencies. Damadian was instrumental in adapting this technology for use on the human body where, as a scanner, it could detect abnormal tissue. An abrasive, aggressive personality, he alienated potential funders and scientists studying N.M.R., who looked down upon him for being "only" a physician, not a Ph.D. But Damadian perservered in his research, and in his belief that the technology had an important application in practical medicine.
In 1974, he received a patent for his Magnetic Resonance Imaging (M.R.I.) technique and several years later, he conducted the first successful body scan. Perhaps because he over-hyped his discovery, or because early M.R.I. scans looked primitive, Damadian had no luck attracting research funding. So he went commercial, selling his first N.M.R. scanner in 1980. He successfully sued General Electric for patent infringement in 1997, winning a $128.7 million judgment. But by that time, his company, Fonar, had annual revenues of $13 million.
Safe and accurate, the scanner continues to be used today to examine soft tissue and detect a variety of medical conditions. Sixty million patients worldwide benefit from its images. Damadian continues to advance the technology of the instrument and has been acknowledged for his efforts with major awards, although he was shut out of a share in a Nobel Prize. His original M.R.I. machine is housed in the Smithsonian.