February 13, 2017, by David Greenaway

Sir Peter Mansfield 1933 -2017

Last week we saw the passing of Sir Peter Mansfield; the loss of a great scientist, a visionary leader, and a very fine person.

Sir Peter is what these days we would describe as a WP student: born in Camberwell; brought up in a family of modest means; left school at 15 (with the advice that science was not really for him); and A levels at evening class.

Who could have guessed at the astonishing career to follow?

Sir Peter completed undergraduate studies and his PhD (in Physics) at Queen Mary College, London then went on to a Post Doc position at the University of Illinois. He joined the University of Nottingham in September 1964 and completed an entire academic career with our University, including as a very active Emeritus Professor. More than half a century in total.

When he arrived at Nottingham, Sir Peter was already working on nuclear magnetic resonance. By the mid-1970s his work was being backed by the Medical Research Council, industry, and the University. And he famously offered himself up as the subject for the very first whole body scan, on a prototype magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Archive footage on ‘Tomorrow’s World’ memorably captures the experiment.

In its obituary to Sir Peter, The Times reported there are now 22,000 MRI machines in use around the world, completing 60 million plus scans a year.

For his fundamental work on MRI, Sir Peter (with the late Professor Paul Lauterbur) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2003. A little more than 200 scientists have received this prize since it was created in 1901.

Sir Peter had many other scientific and civil honours, including election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1987, and conferment of a Knighthood in 1993. For all this and more Peter remained a modest individual, devoted to this family, and generous to his University.

On a personal level, I had the pleasure to vicariously share a few of Sir Peter’s honours. First in 2009, when the then CEO of the Medical Research Council Sir Leszek Borysiewicz came to Nottingham for a special ceremony to award Sir Peter with the MRC’s Millennium Medal. Second in 2013 when I had the honour of delivering the oration when he became just the 39th person since 1895 to be granted Freedom of the City of Nottingham. And third, last year, when I accompanied Sir Peter and Lady Jean for the naming of one of the City’s new trams in his honour.

Fittingly Sir Peter’s last visit to the University was for a Symposium to mark 25 years since the establishment of the Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre, just a matter of weeks ago. He spent the entire day here engaging with colleagues past and present, and with a great many of his former PhD students.

Very few people can claim to have changed the world. Peter Mansfield has done just that and millions worldwide have benefited and will continue to benefit from his discoveries in MRI.

He bequeaths a rich legacy in the ongoing work of the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at our University, led until recently by Professor Peter Morris CBE, who has spent his entire career with Sir Peter. That legacy will continue to change the world.

Professor Sir David Greenaway


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