Interviewing the Guy Who Puts Fruits and Vegetables in MRIs
By Kyle Hill on June 4, 2014
You’ll see Andy Ellison’s work anywhere you’ll find “mind-blowing” GIFs. Ellison created the blog Inside Insides, where he posts the fruits of his labor being the Chief Technologist of a research-only MRI. Turns out you don’t have to cut something open to see its beauty.
In my weekly searches for sciencey GIFs and images, I would run across Ellison’s work all the time, blowing up sections of Reddit and Imgur. So, I decided to get in touch with him via email and ask him how exactly he makes these incredible inside shots.
Nerdist: What first gave you the idea to do this?
Andy Ellison: Well this began as a simple test of our MRI system. We had recently undergone a major hardware upgrade and were running through several different new techniques available (keep in mind this is a research only MRI, no clinical scanning at all, therefore we are capable of much different and more powerful sequences than in a clinical setting). The first fruit scanned was an orange, I thought it looked beautiful, but particularly when one looked at each slice in sequence, hence my decision to make each scan into fluid, animated GIFs.”
N: How do you have the access to the equipment that lets you do this? Are you allowed to “mess around” this way?
AE: I am the Chief Technologist on our 3-Tesla research-only MRI machine. It is my responsibility to keep the machine in check, run stability and quality control scans, as well as the scans of our clients. Many principle investigators do their research with us so it’s better if the machine goes down on my time, rather than theirs. MRI machines can be very delicate.
N: Do you have any ideas which objects will look best in the MRI?
AE: I have started to be able to get an idea if something will be ‘interesting’ or ‘boring’. For instance, pitted fruits tend to be quite boring, such as cherries or avocados. But sometimes when I get a new fruit, It’s as new to me as anything else and I have never cut into one, and I certainly can’t do that until I’ve scanned it, so sometimes I’m very surprised with what I see inside.
N: Why do you think people love these GIFs?
AE: I think the popularity of the blog and the GIFs is quite different from person to person but ultimately I think people like to look at common things in a new light.
N: Do you think you’ll do other objects besides plants and fruit?
AE: Well in an MRI I need hydrogen molecules. Water works best (for instance, a tree branch does not have enough water, trust me, I’ve always wanted to scan wood). And if anything contains metal it is an absolute No-Go, as the MRI will either eat up the metal or simply cause susceptibility artifacts and ruin the image, not to mention metal in the scanner can get warm, therefore we avoid it at all costs).
As long as there are MRIs to test, hopefully Ellison will keep blowing our minds with fruit. For dozens more MRI images, head to Inside Insides.
Kyle Hill is the Science Editor of the Nerdist enterprise. Follow the geekery on Twitter @Sci_Phile.