Imaging (non-ionising)

Non-ionising imaging includes ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and optical imaging.


Healthcare science staff working in this field use a range of imaging techniques including ultrasound, MRI and optical imaging. Non-ionising imaging also encompasses some treatments which are supported by clinical scientists, including ultra violet treatments for skin conditions and laser surgery. You will play an important role in ensuring these treatments are delivered safely, help to develop ways of improving them or introduce new treatments. You will typically be based within either a radiology or medical physics department of a hospital.

Techniques used in imaging (non-ionising)

Ultrasound – this uses high frequency sound waves and can produce real-time images of tissues and organs within the body. Ultrasound is commonly used to monitor foetal development and to assess and screen patients who present with a variety of clinical indications including suspected blood flow problems, gall stones and tumours.

MRI – this uses a combination of strong magnetic fields and radiowaves. MRI has the ability to differentiate soft tissues. It can be used to examine almost any part of the body and is the modality of choice for imaging the central nervous system. MRI can characterise normal and abnormal tissue and can be used to produce a wide variety of different contrasts which may reflect blood flow, cellular density, and tissue stiffness due to changes in blood oxygenation (which has been extensively used to understand brain function).

Optical imaging – this involves measuring the physical properties of light to help make a diagnosis. For example, when shining particular wavelengths of light onto cancerous tissues, they may exhibit different absorption, light scattering or fluorescence behaviours to normal skin. This is an area which is continuing to move from the laboratory into the clinic. Optical systems are currently being evaluated to assess brain function and breast cancer. There are also a number of dedicated optical systems which are used to evaluate eye disease.

Last updated on 15th February 2024