In Interstellar, Cooper mentions that they don't have any MRI machines while talking to his kid's teacher. The dialogue goes as follows:

One of those useless machines they used to make was called an MRI. If we had any of them left the doctors might have been able to find the cyst in my wife's brain before she died, rather than afterwards. And then my kids could have been raised by two parents, instead of me and their pain-in-the-a#$ grandfather.

So, they had MRI machines in the past, but not any longer.

Why are there no MRI machines available? These are not like an Apollo mission which they have to declare fake. What happened to them? Is it ever explained in the movie or by Nolans or someone from the production team?

  • 1
    When you go to the doctor now, they don't do a full battery of tests on you; they run the most plausible and cost-effective ones. It's possible Coop was using hyperbole (and condescending the teacher a bit); they still had MRI machines, but because of the technological downturn working machines were in short supply, and the doctor decided an MRI was too expensive or inconvenient.
    – Schwern
    Jul 25 '19 at 23:12
  • Just to give one alarming example: Since about the 1970s, Germany was well known to build the finest nuclear power plants. The last three units commissioned in 1988/89 are still generally much better designed (except for a few limited details in some cases) than any new nuclear power plant that is currently being built. However, there were no new projects started in Germany since the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Thus, Germany has lost the technology and the knowledge needed to build such great nuclear power plants today. And that in times of great demand for solutions against climate change.
    – user19044
    Jul 27 '19 at 9:46
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    Congratulations, this question is the winner of the corresponding topic challenge.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jul 31 '19 at 8:37

According to Interstellar's screenwriter Jonathan Nolan:

Revelation 2: The death of tech in the film, like GPS and MRI machines, is based on informational extinctions in history.

Jonah Nolan: Kip and I spent a memorable afternoon with some fantastic scientists that Kip pulled together to talk through all the different ways human life could be extinguished or hobbled on our planet. It was a very depressing afternoon. [Laughs] I remember being struck by the fragility of life here. Everyone who has grown up in the West and has been fortunate enough to live through a rather peaceful period, every year everything seems a little better. It's hard for us to imagine periods when things go backwards, but they do very, very frequently. Just in the last 2,000 years, we can identify at last half a dozen periods in western culture where technologies were lost that ancient civilizations had that we still don't fully understand exactly, so you know that there's been knowledge lost since as early as the Middle Ages. What we know about that period survives because of beautifully transcribed manuscripts out on some rocky island on the North Sea. Although it's not our experience, it's frighteningly easy to imagine technology backsliding.

So it is basically an unexplained item that is in part thrown in there to indicate the downward spiral of the world.

This review explains this concept:

A script by Nolan and his brother Jonathan sets the stage, creating a near future world where crops are failing—wheat is gone, okra is on the chopping block, and all farmers can grow with any reliability is corn—and the planet is becoming a giant dustbowl.

They accomplish this visually with looming sand storms, as well as through small hints, mentioning food riots, hinting at hard times in the recent past, and painting a society that needs farmers more than engineers. In all of this there are a handful of nice touches, like how the New York Yankees are basically a high school baseball team, and though you’re never sure what happened, you get enough to know that the world has changed. Better now than it was, there’s no military, and things are relatively peaceful, but they blame for the disastrous near collapse of civilization on rampant technology, like MRI machines that could have saved Coop’s wife, or wasteful spending on things like space exploration—it’s now taught in schools that the moon landing was fake.

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    Uff, I am kinda dissapointed thats the only reason they bring. Good answer, but makes me think less of a movie I actually found quite great (and still do).
    – Zaibis
    Jul 25 '19 at 6:17
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    @Zaibis Why? MRI's are extremely high tech devices. They depend on thousands of other supporting technologies. The society depicted in Interstellar is no longer technological enough to support them. They just don't have the resources, just like we didn't have the resources fifty or a hundred years ago. The massive population decline alone would do it - the rampant anti-technology views don't help either. It's not hard to lose technology; the silly part wasn't the regression, but how quickly they rebuilt for the finale.
    – Luaan
    Jul 25 '19 at 7:17
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    I think the real reason there's no MRIs is that the majority of the population has to work in agriculture. Cooper is a qualified astronaut and pilot, compared to most he'd also be considered well trained as either a scientist or an engineer - and yet he grows corn. With all the potential engineers working to feed the population there's no-one left to design, build, operate, and maintain high tech machinery. Jul 26 '19 at 10:40
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    @Zaibis, In Interstellar, earth population is reduce to 300 million people. I'm surprised they have toilet paper and clean water. Here a radiologist is at least 6 years + 4-5 for speciality. Jul 26 '19 at 12:10

The cause is that all of humanity is concerned on making food to survive, so most of people are farmers, there is a shortage of engineers who could make and operate such machines, as well as the fact that it is very expensive to use MRI.

There is no need for MRI machines when most of the people are dying from starvation, not diseases which need MRI scans.


Since good canonical answers have already been posted, here's my take:

MRI machines need liquid helium to super-cool their electromagnets into superconductors. Helium is a non-renewable natural resource and, in fact, we are already in short supply of it.

Presumably we ran out of helium, and without a suitable replacement, we scrapped the now useless MRI machines to make room for more hospital beds. By the time we could manufacture a suitable superconductor that could run on liquid nitrogen, nobody knew how to build or operate a MRI machine any more.

(Note that it's rather unlikely this would actually happen, as we already have prototype liquid-nitrogen-free MRI coils)

  • 8
    Its a good thought, but, we actually have solid magnets in the majority of MRI machines. Only high-res ones need superconducting electromagnets. Jul 25 '19 at 16:52

Short Answer: They ran out of Isotopes

Long Answer: The way an MRI works is that compounds labeled with stable isotopes are used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging to render visible metabolic changes in the body.

The Isotopes are a scarce resource; it's already being discussed that the global medical community could run out of the Isotopes needed in this process in our near future.

Because 99Mo has a half-life of 66 hours, the isotope can’t be stockpiled and must be delivered within a few days to the hospital or pharmacy. The daughter 99mTc, which has a half-life of six hours, is tapped at the location of use.

The US hasn’t produced 99Mo since the 1980s. But 99mTc is used in about 50 000 medical procedures each day in the US, according to the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Sources: https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.5.1091/abs/

  • 2
    While not an in-universe explanation, it's actually a really plausible reason why they wouldn't have MRI machines anymore. Jul 26 '19 at 13:15
  • 5
    You've mixed up MRI and radionuclear imaging. MRI imaging can use contrast material, but that isn't required, and isn't radioactive.
    – user31017
    Jul 26 '19 at 20:43
  • Seems to be true, the answer by @fax regarding scarcity of Helium is more accurate. The scarcity of Isotopes would prevent other medical imaging technologies (specifically related to Cancer diagnosis and treatment) in the Interstellar future though
    – Black
    Jul 27 '19 at 11:22

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