Sir Peter Mansfield, professor of physics at the University of Nottingham and a pioneer in the development of the MRI scanner, was awarded the 2003 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine (shared with Paul Lauterbur). He was born in Lambeth, London, the youngest of three sons of Sidney George Mansfield, a gas fitter, and Rose Lilian Mansfield née Turner, who had worked as a waitress in a Lyons’ Corner House. He grew up in Camberwell during the Second World War and was evacuated three times – to Sevenoaks in Kent and twice to Torquay in Devon.
Back in London, he sat his 11 plus exam with no notice and no time for preparation, failed and was sent to a central school in Peckham. At 15 he was told by a careers teacher that he wasn’t suited to science. He left school shortly afterwards to work as a printer’s assistant, but continued to study at evening classes.
By the age of 18 he had developed an interest in rockets and applied for a job with the rocket propulsion department of the Ministry of Supply in Westcott, Buckinghamshire. After 18 months, he carried out his compulsory two-year National Service in the Army. He then returned to Westcott, began studying for his A levels at night school and subsequently gained a place to study physics at Queen Mary College, University of London.
He graduated with a first-class degree in 1959. For his final year project, supervised by Jack Powles, he was tasked with designing a portable, transistor-based spectrometer to measure the Earth’s magnetic field. Powles then offered Mansfield a place in his nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) research group, with a project to build a pulsed NMR spectrometer to study solid polymer systems. He was awarded his PhD in 1962. He then went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for postdoctoral research with Charles Slichter. Here he carried out an NMR study of doped metals.
In 1964 Mansfield returned to the UK as a lecturer at Nottingham University. He became a senior lecturer in 1968, a reader in 1970 and was appointed as a professor in 1979, a post he held until his retirement in 1994.
At Nottingham he continued his studies of multi-pulse NMR and, with the help of grants from the Medical Research Council, developed MRI equipment. He is credited with inventing ‘slice selection’ for MRI and understanding how radio signals from MRI equipment can be mathematically analysed, meaning the signals could be interpreted, creating useful images as scans. Following the long-standing tradition of self-experimentation in science, in 1978 he became the first person to step inside a full scanner and be scanned.
In 1987, he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society, he was knighted in 1993 and in 2003 he was awarded the Nobel prize for his work on MRI. He was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 2004. He wrote his memoir The long road to Stockholm: the story of magnetic resonance imaging: an autobiography (Oxford, Oxford University Press) in 2013.
In Nottingham, the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, named in his honour, continues his work. He was survived by his widow, Jean Margaret (née Kibble), whom he married in 1962, their two daughters, Gillian and Sarah, and four granddaughters.
[The Nobel Prize Sir Peter Mansfield Biographical www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2003/mansfield/biographical/ – accessed 6 July 2019; BBC News MRI pioneer and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Mansfield dies 9 February 2017 www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38919614 – accessed 6 July 2019; The Times 11 February 2017 – accessed 6 July 2019; The Guardian 20 February 2017 www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/20/sir-peter-mansfield-obituary – accessed 13 July 2019; IOP Institute of Physics Sir Peter Mansfield (1933-2017) www.iop.org/about/obituaries/page_72195.html – accessed 6 July 2019; The Lancet 2017 389 (10079) 1602 www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31009-7/fulltext – accessed 6 July 2019]