British electronics engineer who invented the computerized axial tomography (CAT) X-ray scanner for use in clinical diagnosis. In recognition of this he was awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He was knighted in 1981.
Hounsfield was born in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and attended the City and Guilds College, London, where he qualified in radio communications. During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force, spending some time at Cranwell Radar School as a lecturer. In 1947 he enrolled at Faraday House Electrical Engineering College, receiving his diploma in 1951 and in the same year joining EMI. He worked initially on radar systems and then computer design, becoming a project engineer for the first large solid-state computer to be manufactured in Britain, the EMIDEC 1100. Expertise in computer systems led him in 1967 to start work on the CAT scanner. This entailed using a computer to construct a cross-sectional planar image of an organ or body using the information from a series of axial transverse X-ray scans – a form of tomography. In this way a much more detailed picture of soft tissues could be obtained, compared with conventional X-radiography, with improved detection and resolution of tumours, blood clots, and other features. The first CAT scanner was installed in 1971, for taking brain scans, and four years later the first whole-body scanners were introduced. Hounsfield was senior staff scientist (1977–85) and subsequently consultant at Thorn EMI and continued development of the CAT scanner as well as investigating the potential of nuclear magnetic resonance as a diagnostic tool. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1975.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.