The MRI−PAC is a research center dedicated to the application of MRI and NMR to problems in engineering and science. Although the principal focus is on applications in petrophysics and petroleum engineering, the Center’s charter approves its use for interdisciplinary research where it can make significant contributions. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging Petrophysical Application Center (MRI-PAC) originated as a donation from a consortium of oil and service companies of $3.5M of capital equipment and site preparation.
Over the last several decades new NMR techniques have been developed to study and characterize the properties and dynamics of complex fluids, emulsions, liquid structures and properties of the porous media which these fluids may occupy. These techniques have found application in medical, biological, chemical and most recently, energy sciences and industries.
These new applications are based primarily on the transient time responses in pulsed NMR rather than on the spectroscopic detail so familiar to chemists. Instead of chemical shift, the fundamental parameters considered are the relaxation times T1, T2, T2*, and the diffusion coefficients D. Theory and practice has succeeded in relating these parameters to the sizes of molecular aggregates and to the common transport properties of viscosity, diffusion, and thermal conductivity. Because the NMR parameters are also understood at the level of quantum mechanics as well as molecular dynamics, these correlations allow a deep and detailed understanding of fluid processes across microscopic and macroscopic dimensions.
The continuing growth of NMR applications derive from its fundamental experimental advantages. Since NMR interacts with the sample through magnetic fields alone, properties deep within a sample can be measured without contact or interference. Measurements at extremes of pressure or temperature become plausible; and because the energies of the NMR interaction are so small the technique does not perturb the processes being measured. These advantages give MRI − the imaging extension of NMR its power.
The research potential of NMR and MRI are indicated by the growth of research publications involving them. Considering that NMR is over 50 years old, the continuing growth of 5% per year is remarkable. It is worth noting that MRI publications have tripled in the last decade and that the 2003 Nobel Prize for medicine and the 2002 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was for research in NMR.
It is hazardous to predict the future course of science but a fairly reliable guide is that science is ultimately driven by the perceived and real needs of society. It can be argued that, for today and the foreseeable future, the highest concerns of society are healthcare and energy, and that research in these areas will continue to grow. NMR and MRI are major experimental tools in both these venues and should find growing application and development.