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Brad Petersen
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Chinese imaging center named after Nobel Laureate Paul Lauterbur

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By Lauren Eichmann
January 7, 2008

  • A new technology institute in China was named for former ECE faculty member Paul C. Lauterbur.
  • Lauterbur was an ECE affiliate faculty member and chemist who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with British physicist Peter Mansfield for discoveries that led to the invention of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • The Paul C. Lauterbur Center for Biomedical Imaging is part of the Shenzhen Institute of Technology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Paul C. Lauterbur
Paul C. Lauterbur

During an opening ceremony last summer, the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) christened its newest research center of the Institute of Biomedical and Health Engineering. Named after late University of Illinois professor and director of Illinois’ Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory, the Paul C. Lauterbur Center for Biomedical Imaging in Shenzhen, China, will serve as a tribute to the Nobel Prize Laureate.

Lauterbur was an ECE affiliate faculty member and chemist who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with British physicist Peter Mansfield for discoveries that led to the invention of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Today, the MRI is a premier imaging device to generate detailed images of internal structures and functions.

The SIAT was established in Shenzhen in 2006 as part of the CAS long-term strategy to improve their research and educational infrastructure, leveraging the economic growth in China over the last twenty years. Shenzhen, a fishing village 30 years ago, was China's first Special Economic Zone.  Since the late 1970s, it has been one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It now has a population of 13 million and is known as a center of foreign investment and an industrial base populated with manufacturing factories and high-tech companies.

The Institute of Biomedical and Health Engineering aims to be a first-rate institute for research and education on biomedical and health science and technology and also an incubator for Chinese emerging medical devices industry. Lauterbur was chosen as its namesake to honor his contributions to life sciences and humanity and as a means to motivate a new generation of researchers.

ECE Professor Zhi-Pei Liang, one of Lauterbur’s former students who had known him for 17 years, said he was a very humble person and never went out of his way to generate publicity for himself. Rather, he was more focused on solving scientific problems and promoting science. “He wanted to influence and inspire,” said Liang. “As an international figure he wouldn’t want people to just remember his name, but his life story — his career — so that it would inspire people. He cared deeply how the younger generation approached science.”

The Paul C. Lauterbur Center for Biomedical Imaging will be a learning resource for students, as classrooms are encouraged to tour the institute. “This is the first time a Chinese establishment has a Nobel Laureate in its name,” Liang said, who added that the Lauterbur family donated plaques and a duplicate Nobel Medal for display purposes at the Center. Building completion is expected by the end of this year, at which time the hundreds of researchers the institute is currently looking to hire, will be able to move in.

Lauterbur, who graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, Ohio, later earned his chemistry PhD from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962. He was a professor with the College of Medicine and chemistry department at Illinois for 22 years. In March, at age 77, he died of kidney disease in his Urbana home. One of the University initiatives to honor his memory includes the installation of a Paul Lauterbur historical marker, located near the north side of Morrill Hall.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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