The invention was made by a British engineer who worked in a strange company. The company is now known for selling Beatles albums.
The possibility of hiding valuables in secret rooms can be very exciting. In the mid-1960s, the British engineer Godfrey Hansfield wondered if it was possible to identify hidden areas in the pyramids of Egypt by capturing cosmic rays passing through empty spaces.
Over the years, he has explored the idea that it can somehow be called “looking inside the box without opening it.” Eventually he learned how to use high-energy beams to reveal what is not visible to the naked eye. He invented a way to see inside the skull and image the soft brain inside.
The first computed tomography scan of the human brain was taken 50 years ago, on October 1, 1971. Hansfield never succeeded in trying this method on the Egyptian pyramids, but his invention led him to Stockholm and Buckingham Palace.
Innovation of an engineer
Godfrey Hansfield’s lifestyle did not in any way indicate that he could achieve much. He was not a good student.
He joined the Royal Air Force at the beginning of World War II. But the soldier was not very successful. However, he had a good relationship with electronic machines – especially the newly invented radar, which he set up with the help of a jury to help pilots find their way home on dark, cloudy nights.
After the war, Hansfield obeyed his commander and received an engineering degree. He started his business at EMI – the company became best known for selling Biltz albums. But focusing on electronic and electrical engineering, he began his career as an electrical engineer.
Hansfield’s natural talents led him to lead the team to build Britain’s most advanced central computer. But in the 1960s, EMI wanted to exit the competitive PC market and was unsure what to do with its leading engineer.
Hansfield met with a doctor who complained of poor quality X-rays of the brain while on forced leave due to the suspension of the company and was about to think about what he was going to do in the future. A plain X-ray showed amazing detail of the bones, but the brain was like a spot with no particular shape or detail – everything looks like fog on an X-ray. This made Hansfield think of his old idea of finding hidden structures without opening the box.
A new approach revealed previous neglects
Hansfield invented a new way to approach the problem of imaging what is inside the skull.
First, he conceptually divided the brain into successive pieces – like a loaf of bread. He then planned to shine a series of X-rays on each layer, repeating this for each degree of a semicircle. Then record the strength of each beam on the opposite side of the brain – with stronger beams indicating that these beams have passed through less dense material.
Finally, Hansfield presented his most innovative invention, an algorithm for reconstructing the image of the brain. Using reverse engineering and the fastest new computers of his time, he was able to calculate the amount of interior space in small areas that were conceived for the brain.
But there was a problem: EMI was not in the medical market and did not want to enter the field. The company allowed Hansfield to work on his product, but the budget was very small. He had to use scrap metal to assemble an initial scanner – it was too small to fit on a dining table.
Even with the successful scanning of inanimate objects and later the cow’s brain, EMI’s policies continued to affect his life. If he wanted to scan the human body and brain with a device, he would need more funding.
Hansfield was an intelligent and intuitive inventor, but he did not communicate effectively. Fortunately, he had a compassionate boss, Bill Ingam, who valued Hansfield’s offer and negotiated with EMI to continue the project.
He knew there was no help he could get from the budget quickly. But he argued that the British Ministry of Health and Social Welfare could buy equipment for hospitals. Miraculously, Ingam sold them four scanners even before they were built. So Hansfield led a team and they built a safe and effective human scanner.
Hansfield, meanwhile, needed patients to test the device. He found a neurologist who reluctantly agreed to help. The team installed a full-size scanner at Atkinson Morley Hospital in London and, on October 1, 1971, scanned their first patient: a middle-aged woman with symptoms of a brain tumor.
The scanning process was not very fast. It took 30 minutes to scan. The magnetic strips then had to be taken to another part of the city for processing. It took 2.5 hours of data processing on EMI central computers and capturing images with a Polaroid camera.
Finally, a cystic mass the size of a plum was found on the left side of the patient’s forehead. Thus, any other method of brain imaging that existed before became obsolete.
Scan millions of cities annually!
With no experience in the medical market, EMI suddenly acquired the monopoly on selling a high-demand medical machine. This car was produced and at first the company was very successful in selling scanners. But within five years, larger, more experienced companies with more research capacity, such as General Electric and Siemens, produced better scanners and increased their sales. EMI is finally out of the medical market – and it has become a case study of why it is better to partner with a big person instead of trying to do it alone.
Hansfield’s innovation revolutionized medical science. She won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1979 and was knighted by the Queen in 1981. He continued his inventions until the last days of his life in 2004, when he died at the age of 84.
In 1973, the American Robert Ladley built a full-body scanner that could image other organs, blood vessels, and, of course, bone. Modern scanners are faster, have better resolution, and most importantly, do this with less radiation exposure. There are even cell phone scanners today.
By 2020, technicians were conducting more than 80 million scans annually in the United States. Some doctors argue that this number is too much and maybe a third of it is unnecessary. While this may be true, CT scans are good for the health of many patients around the world and have helped identify tumors and determine if surgery is needed. They are also especially useful for quickly searching for internal injuries after an emergency accident.
Remember Hansfield’s idea of the Egyptian pyramids? In 1970, scientists placed cosmic ray detectors in the lowest chamber in the Pyramid of Khafre. They concluded that there were no hidden rooms in the pyramid. In 2017, another team placed cosmic ray detectors in the Great Pyramid of Giza and found a hidden but inaccessible chamber. It is unlikely that the philosophy of this chamber will be known soon.