AU to break ground on new MRI research center

AUBURN, AL - Auburn University and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering will host a groundbreaking ceremony for a new $21 million facility that will house Auburn University's new Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, Research Center. The ceremony is set for Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. and will take place in the Auburn Research Park on Devall Drive.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will include remarks by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, Auburn University President Jay Gogue, Auburn Board of Trustees member Charles McCrary, as well as Jeffrey Bundy, vice president, MRI, for Siemens Healthcare.

"The MRI Research Center is a prime example of how state funds can be invested and state educational institutions collaborate with the private sector to develop a world-class research center to advance science and technology, improving quality of life in the global community and promoting economic development for the state of Alabama," Dean of Engineering Larry Benefield said.

Construction of the 45,000-square-foot facility began in January with a projected completion date in September. It is the second building in the research park. The architect for the project is Perkins +Will, and the construction manager is Brasfield & Gorrie LLC.

Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of organs, tissues and the skeletal system. The heart of the MRI machine is a large magnet whose strength is measured in Tesla, or T, and named for electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla.

According to Gogue, the master research agreement signed last year with Siemens will advance Auburn University to the forefront of biomedical engineering and has the potential to bring lifesaving technologies to the citizens of Alabama and the region. Examples of current and potential areas of MRI-related research include brain function, metabolic imaging and pharmaceuticals, as well research into diabetes and heart disease.

The first floor of the new building will house a Siemens Verio open-bore 3T MRI scanner that will be used for both clinical and research use, as well as the nation's first actively shielded whole-body 7T MRI. There are only 28 7T scanners worldwide. Auburn's 7T will be one of two located in the southeastern U.S. and will be the only actively shielded unit in the U.S. This unit will be used solely for research. Thomas Denney, Auburn University professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been named director of the new research center.

"Our vision is to become a leading center for MRI research in the southern United States with emphasis on orthopedic imaging and research, coil design and functional MRI," Denney said.  "These areas represent an intersection between the needs of the MRI research community, particularly in 7T imaging, and existing expertise and strengths of Auburn University."  Functional MRI is a specialized type of scan used to provide an image of how the brain functions.

East Alabama Medical Center will lease approximately 3,000 square feet, including the 3T scanner for a clinical imaging operation. This floor will also house offices and waiting rooms, as well as a research laboratory.

The second floor of the building will contain a coil laboratory, office space for faculty and staff associated with the MRI Research Center and a distance-learning-enabled classroom for MRI training. It will also house office space for The Orthopedic Clinic, as well as the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Lab, or USAARL, which will collaborate with Auburn on research on head and spinal injuries.

The Army will land a Blackhawk helicopter at the site at noon, which will be open for viewing by the public until 3:30 p.m.

Third-floor tenants include EAMC Rehab Works and Auburn's Department of Kinesiology, as well as The Auburn Spine and Neurosurgery Center (the offices of Auburn University Adjunct professor and Neurosurgeon W. Lee Warren, MD), and Warren Innovation, Inc.  Dr. Warren will be involved with the MRI Research Center and the distance-learning classroom."

Auburn Neurosurgery and Warren Innovations Inc., which will also make use of the distance-learning classroom.

"This effort supports Alabama's goal of becoming known as a key state in advancing the biomedical frontier," McCrary said. "It sets an example and establishes a precedent on which programs between Auburn University and other institutions, both private and public, can build to strengthen Alabama's economy and future. We fully expect to see additional partnerships and collaborations grow from these initial efforts."

More information is available on the Web site, and at

The Siemens Healthcare Sector is one of the world's largest suppliers to the healthcare industry. The company is a renowned medical solutions provider with core competence and innovative strength in diagnostic and therapeutic technologies as well as in knowledge engineering, including information technology and system integration. Additionally, Siemens Healthcare is the global market leader in innovative hearing instruments. The company employs around 49,000 people worldwide and operates in 130 countries. More information can be found by visiting

Information Source: Auburn University