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It began with an orange. As chief research MRI technologist at the School of Medicine, Andrew Ellison is entrusted with costly, sophisticated scanning equipment that he must warm up and calibrate for accuracy day after day. Since MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a diagnostic tool that looks at soft tissues, Ellison decided on a whim one day to do one of these routine test scans on a piece of fruit. The resulting image of an orange was so stunning that he began scanning other fruits and vegetables, including a strawberry, an artichoke, a pomegranate, an ear of corn, celery root, and a tomato. He then posted the images on Reddit. Seen anew through this rare lens, they are works of art.
“We were testing different protocols and parameters and wanted something a little more complicated than a bottle of water, which we’d been using as a so-called phantom,” Ellison recalls. “So we scanned an orange, and I was like, wow, that looks really cool, and from then on out anytime I needed to do quality assurance on the machine I would use a different type of fruit.”
Within months of his first scans in spring 2008, the images, and animations he crafted from them, were showing up in media from Science to Bon Appétit to Business Insider. A July 2010 story invited Salon readers to look “into the soul of fruit with MRI scans.” That same year, Science ran a short piece about Ellison titled “Art from Produce,” and a National Public Radio story focused on his “ghostly produce.”
To date, Ellison has scanned more than 60 fruits and vegetables. The images now live on his popular blog, www.insideinsides.blogspot.com.
Prints of the black-and-white images also adorn the walls of the corridor outside Ellison’s office. A cross section of a pineapple is reminiscent of a shadowy X-ray of a human chest. The folds of an artichoke seem reflected in water, and a slice of pomegranate could be mistaken for a microscopic glimpse of a living cell.
“I get huge hit numbers from foodies, artists, and scientists,” he says, “so the blog sits happily in this realm of big internet hit generators.”