Formation of the British Chapter of ISMRM

John Griffiths
October 2019

When Magnetic Resonance was being developed for in vivo studies, in the early 1980s, the researchers didn’t come together in national scientific societies.  They were living in the global village, and instead they formed two international societies: the Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (which I joined in 1984 and served on its Board of Trustees from 1989 to 1992) and the Society of Magnetic Resonance Imaging.  In 1994, after long negotiations, in which I was one of the participants, SMRM and SMRI merged to form the Society of Magnetic Resonance, which changed its name to the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) after a few years.  However, there were still no national MR societies.

An important innovation that we discussed during the merger negotiations was the “national chapter.” This would be an ISMRM in miniature, based in a single country or group of countries.  As soon as this idea was put forward (by Ian Young, I think), I realised that there was no national society for MRI and MRS in the UK.  The nearest equivalent we had was the British Institute of Radiology, but that society was focussed on radiology, radiotherapy and radiobiology; MRI research was only a small part of their remit and MRS hardly featured at all.  The problem was brought home to me when, in 1994, I decided to organise a meeting of British MR researchers to talk about forming one of these new ISMRM chapters: the only venue where I could get the Brits together was at ISMRM itself, which was being held that year in San Francisco, 6,000 miles from home.  The meeting voted nem. con. that we should go ahead and petition the ISMRM Board of Trustees to form a British Chapter.  The petition, signed by 63 members, was successful; the chapter was formed and I became its Chairman, a post that I occupied for the next 6 years followed by two more on the management committee.  Roger Ordidge was the first Secretary and the other members of the first committee were Ann Case, Michael Conway, David Gadian, Donald Hadley, Martin Leach, Peter Morris and Ian Young.  We launched the Chapter with a roof-top party during the Nice ISMRM meeting in 1995, and it rapidly grew to more than a hundred members. Our first conference was in Oxford in December 1995, and the Chapter has held an annual meeting ever since.

A few years before the foundation of the Chapter, George Radda’s laboratory in Oxford had devised the “One Day MR Meeting” for postgraduates and junior postdocs.  This was a brilliantly simple concept: a meeting at which only postgraduates or junior postdocs could make presentations.  One of the major MR centres around the country took on the organisation each year: all they had to do was provide a venue and raise enough money to cover refreshments; it was free to attend and all delegates covered their own expenses.  Many young researchers have made their first oral presentations in these relatively unthreatening surroundings.  The Chapter took on the management of this meeting which was also very simple: we just asked one of the major centres to organise it each year and they nearly always agreed.  It is still going strong as the Post Grad BC ISMRM meeting.

During their discussions about formation of national chapters, the ISMRM Trustees had been very worried that a chapter might decide to cut itself adrift and become an independent society.  All their finances were therefore to be held by the parent society, to keep the chapters on a short leash.  Such issues were far from our minds, however, when we set up the British Chapter, which was the first and for several years the only ISMRM National Chapter.  I styled myself the Chairman rather than the President, to minimise any delusions of grandeur, and our original constitution was so brief that it fitted onto a single sheet of A4.

The ISMRM had inherited from the SMRM a desire to maintain a balance between the numbers of MD and PhD members (that had been one of my jobs when I was the SMRM Membership Chairman), a problem that became easier after the merger with the radiologically oriented SMRI.  We tried hard to maintain the same balance in the British Chapter but it was very difficult to attract clinicians to our meetings – perhaps the BIR and the Royal College of Radiology covered what they needed.  Another consideration was that British radiology departments tend to focus on service work in the NHS, and their research is mainly very clinical.  None of them have the suites of labs with a hundred or more researchers that one sees in some American radiology departments.  In the early days there was also less interest than I had expected from researchers working on biological or medical applications of MR – perhaps some of them were presenting their work in specialist medical or biological societies.  Instead, the British Chapter rapidly became the venue of choice for technically focussed MR researchers.  Over the subsequent years there has been something of a shift towards applications research, and the 25th Anniversary meeting had a good balance between the technical and the applications presentations.

[The archives of the BCISMRM are held by the Manuscripts and Special Collections Section of the University of Nottingham Libraries].

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