The MRI story in Nottingham - a unique archive in the making

It’s going to take a team of specialist archivists, conservators and digitisers 12 months to catalogue and index over two hundred boxes of papers, slides, photographs, films and videos to create a comprehensive archive charting the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the University of Nottingham.

Mark Dorrington , Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections , said: “The scientific importance of this archive will be of interest to anyone studying the history of MRI and the development of scientific technologies and how this blue-sky research led to one of the world’s most important medical breakthroughs.”

Until now the huge collection has been stored at the University and in private homes.

The team of specialists will be trawling through a life-time’s work carried out by Nobel Prize winner, Professor Sir Peter Mansfield, as well as delving into the history of two other Nottingham scientists Professor Brian Worthington and Professor Raymond Andrew.

The project is regarded with such importance the team have been awarded a grant of nearly 100,000 by Wellcome to carry out the work. Wellcome encourages the cataloguing of research papers with the aim of generating new research projects.

The task ahead

There are boxes and boxes of patent applications. Eighteen thousand five hundred slides of MRI scans from the beginning to the present day. Booklets, text-books, ring-bound papers, loose material in bound volumes, faxes, post-its, newspaper leaves and cuttings, posters, audio cassettes, video, film reels, floppy disks, photographs, 35 mm slides, transparencies and negatives will all need cataloging. Digitising the slides alone will take six months.

The cataloguing, preservation, digitisation and promotion of this unique collection of papers will provide historians with a unique record to explore for the first time how this critical technology was developed, implemented and experienced.

The archives will also be of interest to researchers studying the sociology of medicine and health, healthcare policy and economics, engineering and institutional history.

Manuscripts and Special Collections collect papers of University academics so this seemed an obvious one for a substantial project looking at the whole story of MRI at the University. Among the other archives recently acquired are the papers of the first Professor of Nursing at Nottingham.

The Project Advisory Group

An interdisciplinary Project Advisory Group will provide professional and academic support to draw out research potential, assist with promotion of the collection in the academic community and establish links to related collections and artefacts.

The Science Museum and the International Society for Magnetic Resonance for Medicine are among the members of the advisory group. Professor Peter Morris, Sir Peter’s former PhD student and former Director of the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre is also on the panel. He said: “This archive will provide unique insight into the development of MRI. In addition to his published work, it contains Sir Peter’s personal notebooks and correspondence which document the magnitude of the challenges he faced - and overcame - to deliver our most powerful diagnostic imaging technique.”

The archive will form part of the Manuscripts and Special Collections online catalogue. It will be linked to the National Archives Discovery catalogue and the Archives Hub. The collection will also be promoted through the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine Historical Archives web pages.

The hope is this project will inspire other scientists to donate their records and help develop Manuscripts and Special Collections as a centre for research into the development of MRI and establish the methodology for processing future scientific acquisitions.

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