Lifetime achievement

November 26, 2007

Sir Peter Mansfield. Sir Peter Mansfield, the physicist and Nobel laureate, has been on a remarkable journey since leaving school aged 15 with seemingly limited prospects.

The southeast London boy, who was born in 1933, told his teachers at the former William Penn School in Peckham that school was not for him. His intention was to train as a printer - a well-respected trade but not one that required a university education.

But, evidencing education's power to change lives, Sir Peter later returned to study, taking A levels at night school before winning a place to study physics at what was then Queen Mary College (now Queen Mary, University of London). He graduated in 1959 and gained his PhD three years later.

Sir Peter joined Nottingham University in 1964, where he has remained, currently enjoying his role as professor emeritus.

It was at Nottingham in the 1970s that Sir Peter pioneered magnetic resonance imaging, a technology that has since changed the face of healthcare. MRI scans are now a standard diagnostic tool for many diseases and conditions.

In time-honoured scientific tradition, he tested what was then unknown technology - and which many feared would be injurious to human health - on himself, thereby capturing the world's first MRI scan of the human body.

"I gave the order to press the button for a single pulse. There was a click and I felt nothing, so we carried on with the scan," he recalled.

Sir Peter won the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2003, with the late Paul Lauterbur, for their work on MRI. In honour of this and his many other achievements, Nottingham's Magnetic Resonance Centre is named after him.

Judge Baroness Kennedy said: "Here is a man who left school at 15 and ended up winning a Nobel prize. What an incredible and inspirational story. Sir Peter was for me the one who stood out in a hugely impressive field of finalists for this year's Times Higher Lifetime Achievement Award."

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