Jerome R. Singer, pioneer of magnetic resonance imaging, dies at 97

A portrait of Jerome R. Singer

Jerome R. Singer's experiments laid the groundwork for what is now known as magnetic resonance imaging. (Photo by Margarette K. Mitchell)

Jerome R. Singer, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus and a pioneer in the field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), passed away July 30. He was 97.

Singer taught and conducted research for 25 years in the electrical engineering and computer sciences and the biophysics departments at Berkeley. He was also an adjunct professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, where he carried out research on imaging systems.

In 1959, Singer and his students began work on a technique that Nobel Laureate Paul C. Lauterbur later credited as “an early predecessor to MRI.” The experiments took advantage of the fact that the hydrogen atoms in water can act like tiny magnets when placed under a strong magnetic field, releasing radio frequency signals that can be focused into an image.

With the help of a large electromagnet, a method for timing wireless signals and a computer, Singer and his team first measured blood flow and blood volume in mice. He later advanced the technique to image blood flow in human fingers and arms.

“Today, our methods are used to image any part of the body, to measure the flow of blood in hearts and to provide cardiac diagnoses,” Singer later wrote.

Singer was a prolific inventor and entrepreneur, going on to land more than 20 patents and to found or co-found eight technology companies. 

His late wife, Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, was a professor of psychology at Berkeley who specialized in exposing cults and brainwashing techniques of totalitarian groups, organizations and individuals.

“People today talk about makers. He was a maker,” his daughter, Dr. Martha Singer, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “At his lab, there were all kinds of electronics and tools and soldering irons and just a million things going on.”

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