New MRI is a multidisciplinary step forward for Mason

by Anne Reynolds

New MRI is a multidisciplinary step forward for Mason
Pictured: Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall's new Siemens Prisma high performance 3T MRI.

A steady thrum and a cave-like chill announce the newest addition to the Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall on Mason’s Fairfax Campus: this summer, the university installed a new Siemens Prisma high performance 3 Tesla (3T) whole body Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner, housed in the freshly constructed space.

James Thompson, faculty member in the Department of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (housed within Mason’s College of Science), enthusiastically welcomes the room-sized machine and the research opportunities that it will bring to Mason. 

“It’s a whole body MRI scanner,” he explains, “which means that not only can we scan the brain and do neuroscience research, we can do whole-body imaging … This is a core facility, and is set up for researchers from psychology, systems bio, bioengineering, rehab sciences. So we’re hoping that we’ll have a really strong research group.” 

Bringing such equipment to campus is no simple task. Thompson, as Principal Investigator (PI), worked with co-Principal Investigator Siddhartha Sikdar, a faculty member in the Departments of Bioengineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Volgenau School of Engineering, and psychology faculty member Tara Chaplin, to prepare the funding proposal. The team won a major grant from the National Science Foundation which, together with support from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Volgenau, the College of Health and Human Services, and Mason’s Vice President for Research, Deb Crawford, made the significant investment a reality.

“We received funding from a program called the Major Research Instrumentation Program,” said Thompson. “They give one of these million dollar plus grants for our area, which is [the NSF’s] Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Science, one per year.” The grant notes that, as part of Mason’s new Multidisciplinary Multimodal Imaging Center, researchers from across the university will be able to study connections between brain and body, extending research opportunities to students at all levels.

Thompson looks forward to opening up these opportunities. “One of Mason’s strengths has been undergrads involved in research and undergrads are encouraged to talk to different PIs to see how they can become involved.” He also emphasizes the opportunities for graduate students, from disciplines throughout the university to take part in hands-on training with the MRI.

“We see this as a really good opportunity for colleges to come together.”