The CAT Scan/Beatles Connection


If not for the musical group, the Beatles, we wouldn’t have CT scans, aka CAT scans, the advanced medical scanning technology that lets your doctor see how badly your bones are broken.

Here’s the backstory: in the 1960s, a middle-aged engineer named Godfrey Hounsfield was working at Electrical & Musical Instrument Ltd., where he began as a radar researcher in 1951.

The company, known as EMI for short, was a typical industrial scientific company at the time, working on military technology and the burgeoning field of electronics. Hounsfield was a skilled but unexceptional scientist, leading a team that built the first all-transistor computer in 1958.

Through its work in radar, the company began working in broadcasting equipment, which complimented its ownership of several recording studios in London. Specifically, at Abbey Road. In the 50s, the company began releasing LPs, and by the end of that decade, thanks to an acquisition of Capitol Records, the company had become a powerhouse in popular music.

Then, in 1962, on the recommendation of EMI recording engineer George Martin, the company signed the Beatles to a recording contract.

That was the bang – over the next decade (and for years thereafter) the company earned millions of dollars from the fab four. So much money, the company almost didn’t know what to do with it.

EMI gave Hounsfield the freedom to pursue independent research. Hounsfield’s breakthrough was combining his work with computers together with an interest in X-rays. X-rays were still pretty much used to image bodies in two dimensions from a fixed position.

Hounsfield’s idea was to measure in three dimensions, by scanning an object – most dramatically, a human head – from many directions. The result was a cross-sectional, interior image that he called computed tomography, or CT.

Photo by isdproductions.

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