A tribute to Dr Ian Young

Ian YoungWith the recent death of Ian Young on 27 September 2019 the MRI community has lost a true pioneer. Ian Young was FBIR, and in 1989 presented the BIR Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture. Dr Adrian Thomas, BIR Honorary Historian has written a tribute to this renowned scientist and medic and reflects on his career from a personal perspective.

Ian Robert Young was born in London on 11 January 1932. His father, John Stirling Young, was Regius Professor of Pathology at the University of Aberdeen. Ian was educated at Sedbergh School in Cumbria, and obtained his BSc and PhD from Aberdeen University.

From 1976 to 1981 he worked for EMI Ltd, and from 1981 to 1997 for GEC plc.  Following the success of the CT scanner EMI had expanded its medical imaging activities and established a nuclear magnetic resonance group. EMI worked with the Department of Health and Social Security, and a large bore cryomagnet system was built by Oxford Instruments with activities shifting to Hammersmith Hospital where patient imaging was started in March 1981.

I joined Hammersmith Hospital in 1981 as a trainee registrar in radiology and was very much aware of the excitement in the air. As juniors we were delighted to see the new MR images hot from the printer that Graeme Bydder brought along to our lunchtime departmental clinical meetings. It was while he was at EMI that many important technical and clinical advances in MRI in the UK were made, including the description of many new sequences, and the use of MRI in brain imaging including multiple sclerosis. From 1986 he was visiting professor of radiology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at the Hammersmith Hospital in London. In 1986 he was awarded an OBE, and in 1989 was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

The 1980s were a fruitful decade for MRI and in 1989 Ian Young delivered the BIR Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture taking as his title “Magnetic resonance: boundless possibilities, or possible boundaries?” (Young, IR.  BJR 1990; 63:1-13). It is well worth reading today. He reviewed the future of MRI and we can feel his delight in the technique when he exclaims “Perhaps the single most exciting thing about whole-body magnetic resonance (MR) is its scope. It is possible to design procedures for an almost indefinite repertoire of different studies, each more elaborate than the last and capable of more refined interpretation.”

The MR field may seem impenetrable to outsiders, and Young noted that “Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) aficionados are inclined to cloak their activities with a miasma of acronyms and jargon, leading toin vivospectroscopy, in particular, being viewed as almost impenetrable in its mystique, though imaging can often seem little less opaque. In this paper we propose that the destruction of this false perception gives rise to some of the greatest hopes for the future of the modality”. We can applaud him.

In 1990 he was made an honorary FRCR. In 1992 he was awarded an honorary DSc from Aberdeen University and in 1995 he was made an honorary member of the American Society of Neuroradiologists. In addition to having published over a hundred papers on topics related to magnetic resonance imaging, he was the holder of 50 separate patents. He was Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. 

As the 1990s progressed there appeared an increasing number of papers on MRI and on its clinical utilisation. The group at the NMR Unit at the Hammersmith Hospital and the GEC Hirst Research Centre described fat suppression in MRI in February 1992. Ian Young was elected president of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) for 1991–1992, and received the society's gold and silver medals. He gave the Clifford Paterson Lecture of the Royal Society in 1993 taking as his title “Accurate measurement in vivo magnetic resonance: an engineering problem?”

Ian's final project was developing, with Graeme Bydder and Martyn Paley, an online history of MRI and spectroscopy in the UK. This is a wonderful resource and may be accessed at https://mrishistory.org.uk.

Ian Young is survived by his wife Sylvia, their children Graham, Neil, and Fiona, and their six grandchildren. He will be missed by many.

Note: Further information and reprints of the classic papers in the development of MRI may be found in “Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology” (AMK Thomas, AK Banerjee & U Busch. Springer Verlag, 2004) and may be downloaded from the Springer website.

 Dr Adrian Thomas FBIR

Honorary Historian


Image courtesy of Graeme Bidder

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