Skip navigation
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • Pause Play

Family and Child Neuroscience Lab

What is MRI?

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner is essentially a big, fancy camera. What makes it special is that it can take pictures of the inside of the body. Instead of using radiation to form an image (as with X-rays), MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves. Both magnetic field and radio wave exposure is safe for most people, unless they have metallic implants or devices.

MRI Panda


MRI Images

On the left is what a normal picture of Homer Simpson taken with a normal camera looks like. On the other hand, the photo on the right displays an MRI picture of what Homer's head might look like when taken with an MRI scanner. This is an example of the difference between normal pictures and MRI images.

Homer Simpson Homer MRI


Panda MRI interior Getting Ready

Before infants are placed into the scanner, a researcher will go over the consent with you. During this time infants are free to play with toys or play with a researcher or anyone you decide to bring along with you on the scanning day. 

Once the consent is finished, infants will fall asleep naturally in the scanner room which will be made dark to help facilitate sleep. A fake scanner made of wood is available for viewing for both parents and infants prior to the scan. First time mothers who participate in our study will be put into the scanner awake.


Panda & MRI Assistant

Into the Scanner

Before entering the MRI scanner, infants and their guardians will be screened for any metal. Once cleared, infants will stay asleep in the scanner for up to 45 minutes. Mothers who participate will lie in the scanner awake for up to 80 minutes. Mothers and infants will be given noise protective earbuds and headphones while in the scanner.In addition a foam barrier will be placed over your infant to dramatically minimize noise from the scanner.  

While in the scanner, a research assistant will be with your infant the entire time to make sure they are safe and asleep. First time mother's who participate will be heard and researchers can speak to you using a microphone. Also, you will be given an emergency button to push in case anything happens. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Is MRI safe?

The Food and Drug Administration reports that there are no know harmful side-effects associated with MRI scans. Both magnetic field and radio wave exposure is safe for most people, unless they have metallic implants or devices.

Is MRI safe for my baby?

MRI is a safe and non-invasive technique that is commonly used to study the brain in individuals of all ages including infants, children and adults. There is no radiation involve in MRI scans.  Instead, the MR scanner consists of a powerful magnet, which attracts certain metallic objects.  If your infant has metal pieces in his/her body, they should not be scanned. Prior to scanning your infant we do a MRI screening form to ensure your infant is safe to enter an MRI. On the day of the scan we redo this screening to be extra safe and have our MRI technician look over your infants screening form. 

Can anyone participate in the MRI portion of your research?

Participants can NOT:

  1. Have any metallic fragments in their body or braces
  2. Be claustrophobic, or have a fear of small spaces
  3. Be pregnant at the time of the scan
Who gets scanned?

For participants in the HEART project, only children get scanned. For participants in the IDEA project, only the parent (mother) gets scanned.

How long does the scanning take?

We typically scheduled 3-hour visits so that we have plenty of time to prepare you for the scan through practice, and to complete different tasks and questionnaires that are part of the research. The scan itself can take up to 80 minutes.

Do you inject any type of contrast or use sedation?

No. Participants are awake during our MRI scans and they do not require the injection of any contrast dye or sedative.

Can I be in the scanning room during the scan with my infant?

Of course! In fact we encourage you to be in the room with your infant and prefer it if you are able. As long as you are safe to enter the MRI scanner environment and have no metal or devices that may be influenced by the magnetic field, you will be allowed in the scanning room with your infant. We will screen you for these things prior to allowing you to enter the scanner. Additionally you will be given noise reducing earbuds while in the scanning room. 

Why do you place my infant in the scanner while they are sleeping? Can't you just scan them awake? 

When you take a picture of a moving car, flying bird, or any other moving object the picture ends up blurry. The same idea applies to moving during an MRI scan; movement causes very blurry images. By imaging infants while they sleep, we can be sure they will stay still for the whole scan. Staying still for such an extended period of time would almost be impossible for this age group otherwise. 

Aren't MRI scans very loud? How will my infant sleep through the scan? 

MRI scanners can be very loud, reaching around 125 dB which is equivalent to a balloon popping right next to your ear. Through the use of silicone ear plugs, noise reducing headphones designed for infants, and a foam barrier called an acoustic hood that we place into the MRI scanner around your infant the noise is reduced significantly. By using these noise reducing measures, infants can sleep through the scan without being awoken by the noise. 

What if I want to stop?

While in the scanner, you will be given an emergency button, and researchers will be able to hear you via microphone. If you are uncomfortable before or during a scan, just alert us and we will stop everything.

If you find something concerning on the scan, will you let me know? Can I pass on the images from the scan to my neurologist?

Because the scans are being done for research, they are not optimized to detect abnormalities. Therefore, the images we retrieve are for non-medical research purposes only.

Where are the scans done?

Our scans are done at the Center for Innovation and Creativity at the University of Colorado Boulder. Transportation can be provided for any participants who are in need of it.

Will my information be shared with anyone?

The information that you provide will be for research purposes only. All records identifying participants will be kept confidential. If we publish or present results of this study, we will not use individual names or other personally identifiable information.

Other questions?

      Feel free to email us at or call us at 303-871-3096.