The actual MRI machine contains a large, very strong magnet, thousands of times as strong as a normal bar magnet. This is why you can't bring anything metal into a scanning room; it could become magnetized and fly toward the scanner at a high speed. By measuring the magnetic properties of hydrogen atoms in the brain, an MRI scanner can construct an image of what's inside your head.
Beside taking still pictures of the brain, MRI can also be used to look at activity in various parts of the brain over time. This technique, called functional MRI (fMRI), is frequently used in our lab. fMRI measures the amount of oxygen in blood vessels in the brain, over time. When a certain part of the brain is active (i.e., when this region is processing information and its neurons are firing), the body sends fresh blood to this part of the brain, to refill its supply of oxygen and glucose. fMRI can measure these changes, and thus can tell us about regional changes in brain activity in response to a picture, film clip, or interactive task.
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