How Medical Imaging Uses Chemistry

Instructor: Allyn Torres

Allyn has taught high school chemistry, and has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

In this lesson, you will learn about several types of medical imaging: ultrasound, MRI, and X-ray. You will also learn how chemistry is used in each type of medical imaging.

What is Medical Imaging?

One of the Most Popular Types of Medical Imaging - X-ray

If you've ever seen any science fiction movie where a strange species or disease has invaded a human body, you know that it is important to be able to see what is inside our bodies. That's where medical imaging comes in. Medical imaging encompasses several different types of technology that enable us to view the human body in order to diagnose, monitor, and treat medical conditions. If the countless victims in the science fiction movies might have had access to medical imaging, they might have been saved!

Types of Medical Imaging


Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves in order to see inside the body. There are various types of ultrasound, including fetal ultrasound, which is used to view the baby inside a pregnant woman's stomach.

The Chemistry of Ultrasound

Sonochemistry (the chemical processes of ultrasound) is involved in a medical ultrasound. Sound waves are passed through the body. The waves that come out of the body are then measured and calculations are performed on this data. From these calculations, abnormalities can then be detected. Modern ultrasound machines do the calculations automatically and produce images from waves bouncing off of objects.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

MRI machines use strong magnetic fields and radio waves in order to make images of soft tissue (organs) inside the body. MRI is an application of NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance), which is used in laboratories by scientists.

The Chemistry of MRI

Nuclear magnetic resonance occurs when the nuclei (plural of nucleus) of some atoms, such as atoms within the body, in a magnetic field (like that used in an MRI) are put under the influence of radio waves, and they begin to vibrate. This technique is used by doctors in order to detect tumors in soft tissue.


X-rays are a form of electromagnetic (a combination of electric currents and magnetic fields) radiation. In a medical X-ray, X-ray beams are put through the body. Certain parts of the body, such as bones, will absorb the X-rays, while others will deflect it back to the detector (usually a computer screen or film). On X-ray film, the bones will show up as a void space because the bones have absorbed the X-Rays. X-ray is used for many purposes. Detecting broken bones, mammography (breast exams), and dental X-rays are just a few examples.

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