MRI Frequently Asked Questions

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

What is MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a safe, effective way to image certain areas of the body. An MRI scanner has a magnetic field around 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field.

How does it work?

Molecules with magnetic charges align with the strong magnetic field. A radio frequency pulse is used to tip these molecules over. The speed with which the molecules realign tells researchers about the surrounding tissue. Researchers use this information to make an image of the brain.

What about functional scans?

When we think, nerve cells (called neurons) activate. Neurons need energy in the form of oxygen and sugar to function. Oxygen and sugar are carried to the brain by red blood cells, which also carry a molecule called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin has iron in it, which the magnetic field around the machine can detect. This tells us what areas of the brain are being used when someone performs a certain task in the scanner.

Is it safe?

Absolutely. There is no harmful radiation involved and the scan is pain-free. Some people may experience anxiety or claustrophobia while in the scanner. Additionally, people with certain metal implants, such as surgical pins or screws, aneurysm clips, or dental braces, may be at risk when receiving a scan. If you are a study participant, please discuss your medical history with your study coordinator to ensure your safety in the scanner.

If you are interested in participating or would like more information about our research studies, please visit the BIRC Research Studies page or email us at