Professor Ian Young, OBE, FREng, FRS, one of the pioneers of the diagnostic engineering technology Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has won this year’s prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal.

This year awarded for ‘engineering innovations in medicine’, and presented to Professor Young to recognise his contributions to the development and commercialization of MRI, this is only the fourth time the medal has been bestowed.

As one of the major pioneers of the engineering technology of MRI, Professor Young has worked in the field since 1976, and is still actively engaged at the age of 72.

MRI is an imaging technique used primarily in medical settings to produce high quality images of the inside of the human body. It is based on the principles of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), a spectroscopic technique used by scientists to obtain chemical and physical information about molecules.

Professor Young was one of two authors who published the first image of a head in 1978 and built the world-first MR machine to use a super-conducting magnet for imaging, an approach now in almost universal use on patients worldwide.

The collaboration at the Hammersmith Hospital between Ian Young as the designer/engineer and the radiologists Professor Robert Steiner and Professor Graeme Bydder contributed substantially to the rapid worldwide acceptance of magnetic resonance imaging in disease diagnosis. He was able to marry the ideas of the commercial world to the applications of a new science.

He has continued to be very active in MRI, firstly in leading the design of Picker’s machines, and later continuing his innovations at the Robert Steiner MRI Unit at Hammersmith Hospital. These innovations include developing the technology for internal body probes, and other interventional procedures, aided by MRI.

Millions of patients across the world have had much improved diagnoses as a result of Ian Young’s work. In 2003, there were approximately 10,000 MRI units worldwide, and approximately 75 million MRI scans per year are performed

Professor Young, who received an OBE in 1987, will receive his medal at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 10 June.

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering Sir Frank Whittle Medal reflects the spirit of the late Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FEng FRS, one of the most creative engineers of all time. This medal is ‘awarded to an engineer, with strong connections with the United Kingdom, for outstanding and sustained achievement which has contributed to the well-being of the nation.’
  2. This is only the fourth time that the Whittle Medal has been awarded – the first in 2001 went to the creator of the world-wide web, Professor Tim Berners-Lee OBE FREng FRS for his achievements in communication, and in 2002 to Professor John Ffowcs Williams FREng for his for dedication to understanding the properties of sound, which has enabled huge innovation in international transport.
  3. Frank Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907, the son of a skilful mechanic and inventor. From an early age he experimented in his father’s factory and was fascinated by the fledgling aviation industry. He joined the RAF in 1923 as an apprentice. His talents were soon recognised and he qualified as a pilot at the RAF College, Cranwell, before reading Mechanical Sciences at the University of Cambridge. While at Cranwell he had developed a thesis on jet propulsion and patented his design in 1930, but officials at the Air Ministry dismissed his ideas as impractical. However, in 1936 he and some associates founded a company, Power Jets Ltd, to develop the theory. Despite political and financial adversity, Whittle’s jet engine made its maiden flight on 15 May 1941, powering the purpose-built Gloster E28/39. By 1944 the engine was in service with the RAF. The technology quickly spread and has been fully exploited worldwide.
  4. The Sir Frank Whittle Medal for 2005 will be awarded for ‘engineering innovations in energy’.
  5. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Dr. Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering