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An MRI scanner is now in operation at Brigham Young University to support research from a variety of disciplines.

Located on the first floor of the McDonald Building, the MRI Research Facility houses a Siemens scanner with a 3 Tesla magnetic field.

Erin Bigler, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and an expert in brain imaging, is the facility’s director. The associate directors are Neal Bangerter, a professor of electrical engineering and neuroscience, and Brock Kirwan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience.

“This is a beautiful example of interdisciplinary effort, research and integration,” said Bigler.

This is not a clinical facility. Instead, the laboratory is set up to conduct fundamental research on a variety of topics – from autism to anatomy or even social science questions, such as, how people process the concept of risk.

“Commercial MRI scanners are not optimized for state-of-the-art research,” Bangerter said. “The powerhouse universities known for MRI research are the ones that have been able to pull people together from different disciplines to extend the capabilities of these scanners and develop new techniques. We are building that type of environment here at BYU.”

Bigler noted that BYU faculty who previously utilized MRI scanners at other facilities should save time and costs through the new facility – potentially giving their projects more scanning opportunities.

“Our costs are going to be significantly lower than when we were buying scan time from other universities, meaning more research groups on campus can scan more,” Bigler says.

Bangerter also noted that MRI research facilities at other universities are an important training ground predominantly for graduate students. At BYU, however, the operations will involve undergraduates in all stages of MRI research.

“When you look at the large number of BYU undergrads that are already involved in MRI research at our facility, it is easy to anticipate hundreds of undergrads a year across a dozen departments contributing here in the near future,” Bangerter said. “This aligns well with BYU’s mission to focus on undergraduate mentoring and research.”

Writer: Brett K. Lee