Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, Who Helped Develop the CAT Scanner, Dies at
August 20, 2004
By JEREMY PEARCE
Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, a British electrical engineer whose
work in creating the computerized axial tomography scanner,
the CAT scan, a diagnostic tool used in hospitals
worldwide, won him a Nobel Prize, died Aug. 12 at New
Victoria Hospital in Kingston upon Thames, England. He was
The cause of death was not reported, said Dr. Ken Gray, a
friend and former colleague.
In work that began in the 1960's, Sir Godfrey built a
machine that used X-rays to make three-dimensional images
of the body's interior, allowing doctors a new and
cross-sectional view of organs, bones and other tissues. In
the 1970's, CAT-scan technology spread rapidly to
"The breakthrough was the realization that by scanning
objects at many angles, it was possible to extract 100
percent of information" from X-rays, he said in 1973, in an
interview with The New York Times.
Sir Godfrey was recognized with the Nobel Prize in
Physiology or Medicine in 1979. He shared the award with
Allan M. Cormack, a South African scientist who worked
independently on the concept. Dr. Cormack died in 1998.
"The CAT scanner revolutionized medical care in the United
States and throughout the world," said Dr. James A. Brink,
interim chairman of diagnostic radiology at the Yale
University School of Medicine.
"That's not to say it can do everything, but it is a tool
with profound benefits, a great tool," said Dr. Brink,
adding that about 7,000 CAT scanners were in use nationwide
Without a university degree, Sir Godfrey began his research
career at Electrical and Musical Instrument Ltd. in 1951.
After early work on radar and guided weapons systems, he
became interested in computers and led a team that built
the first all-transistor computer in Britain. In the
1960's, Sir Godfrey applied that knowledge in the
development of the scanner, which relied on powerful
computers to assemble its images.
The prototype CAT scanner was designed only to examine the
head. Today's machines can scan the entire body while a
patient lies on a moving table, with an X-ray tube and
multiple detectors spiraling around the body. The Nobel
Committee's presentation speech said that before the CAT
scanner, "ordinary X-ray examinations of the head had shown
the skull bones, but the brain had remained a gray,
"Now, suddenly, the fog had cleared."
Hounsfield was born on Aug. 28, 1919, in Newark, England.
The youngest child of a farmer, he recalled, in an
autobiographical sketch he wrote for the Nobel committee,
that a rural and solitary youth "gave me the advantage of
not being expected to join in, so I could go off and follow
my own inclinations."
After serving as a radar mechanic instructor in the Royal
Air Force, he received a diploma from the Faraday House
Electrical Engineering College in London.
At Electrical and Musical Instrument, he became head of the
medical systems section for the company's Central Research
Laboratories, from 1972 to 1976. He was ultimately made a
senior staff scientist and retired in 1986. He never
Sir Godfrey was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in
1975, and was knighted in 1981. His name is used to
describe the brightness of images that appear on the CAT
scanner. The images are measured in Hounsfield units.