Understanding MRI: A co-creation project to develop an animation with research participants

Throughout the last year, members of the Physics, Imaging Support, qMAP-PD and PLORAS teams from across the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging (WCHN) joined forces to deliver a multi-disciplinary public engagement project. Together with volunteers who participate in the Centre’s research, they co-created an animation to explain a core aspect of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The final animation, ‘What is functional MRI?’, can be viewed here.


The initial concept behind this project was developed by the Centre’s Physics Group, who wanted to explore better ways to connect with research volunteers and people visiting the centre around the basic principles of MR physics.

MR physics underpins WCHN’s neuroscience research. The Physics Group reflected that they often receive questions from research volunteers about MRI and how it works, and they wanted to find a meaningful way to answer these questions. They decided that creating a series of animations would be an effective technique to clearly explain complex ideas in a way that could be adapted to suit different topics, and shared widely.

In order to develop the project, they collaborated with three teams from across the Centre who regularly interact with research volunteers:

  • The PLORAS team have collectively scanned over 1000 stroke survivors
  • qMAP-PD have had over 200 people with Parkinson’s take part in their research
  • The Imaging Support team provides the technical radiographic expertise to carry out all of the MRI scans that are integral to these studies.

With the support of the Centre’s Public Engagement Coordinator Joanne Thomas, they formed the Understanding MRI team, and successfully gained a WCHN Digital Engagement Grant to develop the project. Their first task was to focus on co-creating an initial single animation.

Central to the project’s success is the relevance of the animations to the groups of people who most frequently visit the research centre. Nearly 200 participants from both the PLORAS and qMAP-PD research groups were surveyed to discover which MRI-related questions they found most interesting and salient. For the first animation, the Understanding MRI team chose to focus on the survey participants’ most popular question “What is functional MRI (fMRI)?”.

The animation was brought to life through a collaborative process between the Understanding MRI Team, 5 PLORAS and qMAP-PD research participants, and an illustrator, Alice Haskell. The animation was co-created using an iterative process across three focus groups, with input from the research participants and from colleagues within the Centre at each stage of the animation’s development.

The project won the 2021 ‘Outstanding Public Engagement Project Award’ at the WCHN Public Engagement Awards Ceremony. The final animation is being shared across the Centre’s and team websites, and with new and existing research volunteers, clinicians and other relevant contacts.

You can read the team’s reflections on being part of the project in a reflective blog.

Once you’ve watched the animation, test your knowledge with this short quiz.

You May Also Like

  • New guidance on how to support young people during brain scanning co-developed with young people with epilepsy image

    New guidance on how to support young people during brain scanning co-developed with young people with epilepsy

    The OPM Collaboration set out to raise the voice of young people with epilepsy. In partnership with Young Epilepsy, the project co-designed key elements of a new wearable brain scanning technology: OPM-MEG. Through the project, new insights and guidance have been published on how to better support young people with epilepsy during the brain scanning process of this emerging technology.

    Read More
  • New funding secures the future of social mobility programme In2Research image

    New funding secures the future of social mobility programme In2Research

    Global health funder Wellcome is the latest funder to support the impactful In2research programme, co-founded by In2scienceUK and Department of Imaging Neuroscience, UCL.

    Read More
  • National British Brain Bee Championship 2023 image

    National British Brain Bee Championship 2023

    After the challenging Online British Brain Bee competition 2023, 32 students from across the UK were invited to the National British Brain Bee 2023 competition which was held on Saturday, February 4th, 2023 at London Metropolitan University.

    Read More