UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Understanding MRI: a new co-creation project to develop an animation with research participants

12 July 2021

Throughout the last year, members of the Physics, Imaging Support, qMAP-PD and PLORAS teams from across the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging (WCHN) UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, joined forces to deliver a multi-disciplinary public engagement project.

understanding MRI slide

Together with volunteers who participate in the Centre’s research, they co-created an animation to explain a core aspect of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The initial concept behind this project was developed by the Centre’s Physics Group, who wanted to explore better ways to connect with research volunteers and people visiting the centre around the basic principles of MR physics.

MR physics underpins WCHN’s neuroscience research. The Physics Group reflected that they often receive questions from research volunteers about MRI and how it works, and they wanted to find a meaningful way to answer these questions. They decided that creating a series of animations would be an effective technique to clearly explain complex ideas in a way that could be adapted to suit different topics, and shared widely.

In order to develop the project, they collaborated with three teams from across the Centre who regularly interact with research volunteers: ·

  • Predicting Language Outcome and Recovery After Stroke (PLORAS) team have collectively scanned over 1000 stroke survivors. 
  • qMAP-PD have had over 200 people with Parkinson’s take part in their research. 
  • The Imaging Support team provide the technical radiographic expertise to carry out all of the MRI scans that are integral to these studies.

With the support of the Centre’s Public Engagement Coordinator Joanne Thomas, they formed the Understanding MRI team, and successfully gained a WCHN Digital Engagement Grant to develop the project. Their first task was to focus on co-creating an initial single animation.

understanding MRI slide

blood cells graphic

Central to the project’s success is the relevance of the animations to the groups of people who most frequently visit the research centre. Nearly 200 participants from both the PLORAS and QMap-PD research groups were surveyed to discover which MRI-related questions they found most interesting and salient. For the first animation, the Understanding MRI team chose to focus on the survey participants’ most popular question “What is functional MRI (fMRI)?”.