The owner of @practiCALfMRI, a purveyor and conductor of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) experiments, has recently shared a rather curious image on their Twitter feed. It appears to be a bug-eyed monster, something that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? – and, rather tantalizingly, he asked everyone to “name the species!”
So, can you guess what it could be?
The thoughts of those commenting under the image varied wildly. One suggested it was dead salmon, another suspected it might be a clown fish, and one somehow brought the Prime Minister of Spain into the mix. One rather appropriately thought it might be a Porg, as featured in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
As it turns out, it was – spoiler alert – a deceased California sea lion, about 12 months old. According to @practiCALfMRI, it was euthanized because of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can be quite dangerous to humans and, indeed, to various animals.
It turns out those bug-eyes are indeed its peepholes, which just so happen to look fairly bonkers in an MRI scan.
Ben Inglis, the MRI master at the University of California Berkeley’s Brain Imaging Center, is the person behind the Twitter account. It’s safe to say we’re all hoping that this isn’t the last enigmatic MRI slice he posts online.
MRI scans are technological marvels. By applying a strong magnetic field to the water molecules in your body, the protons within the hydrogen atoms all line up like needles on a compass.
Radio wave bursts are then fired at them, which causes them to temporarily be knocked out of alignment. The protons then realign themselves, which sends out a little radio wave burst of their own, which is picked up by a receiver.
This is how MRI specialists can see inside your brain, for example, and track where the blood is going – something known as functional MRI (fMRI). They can even deduce what you may be thinking depending on which regions of the brain are “lighting up” the most during the scan.
Alternatively, as has been adequately demonstrated by this gloriously bizarre example, you can sometimes use them to baffle the Internet – while promoting the science behind it all at the very same time.