Friday, May 16, 2014

Paul Callaghan (1947-2012)

Russ Hobbie and I are hard at work on the 5th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, which has me browsing through many books—some new and some old classics—looking for appropriate texts to cite. The one I’m looking at now is Paul Callaghan’s Principles of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Microscopy (Oxford University Press, 1991). Callaghan was the PhD mentor of my good friend and Oakland University colleague Yang Xia. You probably won’t be surprised to know that, like Callaghan, Xia is a MRI microscopy expert. He uses the technique to study the ultrastructure of cartilage at a resolution of tens of microns. Xia assigns Callaghan’s book when he teaches Oakland’s graduate MRI class.

Callaghan gives a brief history of MRI on the first page of his book.
“Until the discovery of X-rays by Roentgen in 1895 our ability to view the spatial organization of matter depended on the use of visible light with our eyes being used as primary detectors. Unaided, the human eye is a remarkable instrument, capable of resolving separations of 0.1 mm on an object placed at the near point of vision and, with bifocal vision, obtaining a depth resolution of around 0.3 mm. However, because of the strong absorption and reflection of light by most solid materials, our vision is restricted to inspecting the appearance of surfaces. ‘X-ray vision’ gave us the capacity, for the first time, to see inside intact biological, mineral, and synthetic materials and observe structural features.

The early X-ray photographs gave a planar representation of absorption arising from elements right across the object. In 1972 the first X-ray CT scanner was developed with reconstructive tomography being used to produce a two-dimensional absorption image from a thin axial layer.1 The mathematical methods used in such image reconstruction were originally employed in radio astronomy by Bracewell2 in 1956 and later developed for optical and X-ray applications by Cormack3 in 1963. A key element in the growth of tomographic techniques has been the availability of high speed digital computers. These machines have permitted not only the rapid computation of the image from primary data but have also made possible a wide variety of subsequent display and processing operations. The principles of reconstructive tomography have been applied widely in the use of other radiations. In 1973, Lauterbur4 reported the first reconstruction of a proton spin density map using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and in the same year Mansfield and Grannell5 independently demonstrated the Fourier relationship between the spin density and the NMR signal acquired in the presence of a magnetic field gradient. Since that time the field has advanced rapidly to the point where magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is now a routine, if expensive, complement to X-ray tomography in many major hospitals. Like X-ray tomography, conventional MRI has a spatial resolution coarser than that of the unaided human eye with volume elements of order (1 mm)3 or larger. Unlike X-ray CT however, where resolution is limited by the beam collimation, MRI can in principle achieve a resolution considerably finer than 0.1 mm and, where the resolved volume elements are smaller than (0.1 mm)3, this method of imaging may be termed microscopic.”

1. Hounsfield, G. N. (1973). British Patent No. 1283915 (1972) and Br. J. Radiol. 46, 1016.

2. Bracewell, R. N. (1956). Austr. J. Phys. 9, 109-217.

3. Cormack, A. M. (1963). J. Appl. Phys. 34, 2722-7.

4. Lauterbur, P. C. (1973). Nature 242, 190.

5. Mansfield, P. and Grannell, P. K. (1973). J. Phys. C 6, L422.
Callaghan was an excellent teacher, and he prepared a series of videos about MRI. You can watch them for free here. They really are “must see” videos for people wanting to understand nuclear magnetic resonance. He was a professor at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand. In 2011 he was named New Zealander of the Year, and you can hear him talk about scientific innovation in New Zealand here.

Callaghan died about two years ago. You can see his obituary here, here and here. Finally, here you can listen to an audio recording of Yang Xia speaking about his mentor at the Professor Sir Paul Callaghan Symposium in February 2013.


  1. Thanks for link to Callaghan lectures. It may be that I'm selfish, but looking to the day when Roth's IPMB course will be available too.

  2. Fear of commitment? I can't believe that's it.
    How about money? Okay, how much loot do you need to make it happen Brad?