OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

MRI Scanner (1980)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

King’s Centre, Osney Mead, Oxford

MRI scanner being installed

Oxford Instruments plc was established by Martin Wood in 1959 to harness the academic research being carried out at Oxford University to commercial enterprise. He was at that time Senior Research Officer at the Clarendon Laboratory, conducting experiments in very low temperatures and very high magnetic fields, and specialising in the design, construction and operation of magnets. His wife Audrey joined him in running the company. In 1961 they set about pioneering the successful manufacture of the first superconducting magnets.

In 1973–4 groundbreaking work in nuclear resonance imaging by Dr Peter Mansfield (now Sir Peter) at Nottingham University and Professor Paul Lauterbur and also Dr Damadian in the USA opened up new possibilities for medical application. The Wood’s were inspired to manufacture the first commercial MRI whole body scanner at the Osney Mead factory in 1980. It was installed at the Hammersmith Hospital where Dr (now Professor) Ian Young and Professor Graeme Bydder used it for clinical trials and where it is still in use.

Oxford Instruments has operated from premises at various locations in Oxford, starting with a garden shed at Northmoor Road, via a disused slaughterhouse and stables in Middle Way, Summertown, a former laundry in Abbey Place, St Ebbe’s, to a former boat-building shed near Osney lock which formed the nucleus of the purpose built factory (1971) on the developing Osney Mead Industrial Estate. This building has since become the King’s Centre, a community church and conference venue. Most appropriately, but quite fortuitously, it was chosen as the place for the Prime Minister’s 2006 Royal Society lecture on scientific education and enterprise.

The MRI technology, led by Oxford Instruments, was the biggest breakthrough in medical diagnostics since the invention of the X-ray (1895) and now up to 300,000 patients a day worldwide benefit from the use of hospital scanners. From its small beginnings the company, which was floated on the stockmarket in 1983, now (in 2007) employs 260 people at its Oxfordshire base at Tubney Woods and also has bases in Europe and the USA. True to the spirit of its founders, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood, it seeks to remain at the cutting edge of scientific applications.

  • Sources: Audrey Wood, Magnetic Venture, the Story of Oxford Instruments (O.U.P. 2001); The In Business supplement to the Oxford Times (March/April 2007)
  • Picture: Unveiling ceremony
MRI plaque

The plaque was unveiled at the King’s Centre, Osney Mead, Oxford on 14 May 2007 by Sir Martin Wood. Professor Ian Young also spoke at the ceremony.

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

In this building
the first
SUPERCONDUCTING / MAGNET
for 
MRI SCANNING
was manufactured by
OXFORD INSTRUMENTS 
in 1980

Oxford Instruments plc

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