August 28 is Godfrey Hounsfield’s birthday. Hounsfield was the English electrical engineer who built the first x-ray computer tomography scanner or CT scanner.
Hounsfield studied radio repair in vocational school and basic electronics and radar with the Royal Air Force during World War II. After the war he attended Faraday House Electrical Engineering College in London. He then obtained a position at Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) where he would spend his entire career.
He had the idea of determining the contents of a box by scanning the box with x-rays from all angles, collecting all the scans and produce a 3-dimensional representation of the box’s contents. He obtained a grant from the British Health and Social Services and began to research how to build his idea. It took several years, but he managed to construct a prototype that would x-ray an object from several angles, send the x-rays to a computer so software could compile image ‘slices’ of the object. The software would then stack these slices to build a 3-dimensional image.
The first object he imaged was a preserved human brain. Following that success he tried a fresh cow brain from a local butcher shop. When he saw his device did not damage either brain, he decided to image his own brain. Hounsfield had created the CAT scanner or CT scanner. The device would soon be installed at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in London where in 1971, it was used to detect a cyst in a patient’s brain. CAT scanners are now common equipment and found in hospitals around the world.
Hounsfield went on to design and build the first full-body CAT scanner just four years later. He was awarded half the 1979 Nobel Prize in Medicine for this invention. He is one of the few people who have won a Nobel Prize with no formal University training.