MRI pioneer ponders desert island reading and musical experience

August 1, 2006

What music inspires a Nobel Laureate? The answer: Gustav Holst's "Jupiter from The Planets," Bedrich Smetena's "Ma Vlast (My Country)," Charles Trenet's "La Mer," Perry Como's "Magic Moments," and William Walton's "Coronation March."

What music inspires a Nobel Laureate? The answer: Gustav Holst's "Jupiter from The Planets," Bedrich Smetena's "Ma Vlast (My Country)," Charles Trenet's "La Mer," Perry Como's "Magic Moments," and William Walton's "Coronation March."

Prof. Peter Mansfield revealed his varied musical tastes during a June episode of the BBC's long-running radio show, "Desert Island Discs," in which interviewees must imagine they are stranded in the ocean. To ease the feeling of extreme isolation, they are allowed only eight songs, the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, another book, and a single luxury.

"I think I would be pretty miserable on the island," Mansfield said. "I like woodwork and metalwork, so I would build a shelter, but I would miss the family and my laboratory."

Mansfield shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Paul C. Lauterbur. The award recognized the contributions of the two to MRI. He expressed disappointment at receiving recognition from the Nobel Committee toward the end of his career. Now 72, he is professor emeritus of physics at the University of Nottingham, U.K., but he still works five days a week. His current area of interest is noise reduction in MRI.

When asked how he had spent the Pound Sterling 400,000 (about $735,000) prize, he said it went into the general research fund, although he did take his wife on a celebratory Mediterranean cruise. They are planning another trip this year.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mansfield failed to acknowledge the role played by radiologists, physicists, and other researchers with whom he worked. During the 40-minute BBC interview, he only mentioned his former student Andrew Maudsley, whose fingers were the first human body part to be scanned at Nottingham.

Mansfield was born in London before World War II and remembers the first Doodlebug attack on the capital. Watching the flying bombs gave him an interest in rocket propulsion that led to a lifelong fascination with science. The son of a gas-fitter, he left school without any qualifications at the age of 15. His school's careers officer laughed at his ambition to be a scientist and fixed him up with a job as a bookbinder. Mansfield put himself through night school and eventually obtained a Ph.D. in physics at the University of London.

He was appointed research associate at the physics department of the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1962, and two years later became a lecturer in physics at the University of Nottingham. Between 1972 and 1973, Mansfield went on a sabbatical at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg.