Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield, CBE, FRS, (28 August 1919 – 12 August 2004) was an English electrical engineer who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Allan McLeod Cormack for his part in developing the diagnostic technique of X-ray computed tomography (CT). His name is immortalised in the Hounsfield scale, a quantitative measure of radio density used in evaluating CT scans. The scale is defined in Hounsfield units (symbol HU), running from air at −1000 HU, through water at 0 HU, and up to dense cortical bone at +1000 HU and more.
Hounsfield was born in Sutton-on-Trent (near Newark-on-Trent), Nottinghamshire, England on 28 August 1919. As a child he was fascinated by the electrical gadgets and machinery found all over his parents' farm. Between the ages of eleven and eighteen, he tinkered with his own electrical recording machines, launched himself off haystacks with his own home-made glider, and almost killed himself by using water filled tar barrels and acetylene to see how high they could be waterjet propelled. He attended the Magnus Grammar School (now Magnus Church of England School) in Newark-on-Trent and excelled in physics and arithmetic.
he attended Faraday House Electrical Engineering College in London, graduating with the DFH (Diploma of Faraday House). In 1949, Hounsfield began work at EMI, Ltd. in Hayes, Middlesex, where he researched guided weapon systems and radar. At EMI, he became interested in computers and in 1958, he helped design the first commercially available all-transistor computer made in Great Britain: the EMIDEC 1100. Shortly afterwards, he began work on the CT scanner at EMI. He continued to improve CT scanning, introducing a whole-body scanner in 1975, and was senior researcher (and after his retirement in 1984, consultant) to the laboratories.
While on an outing in the country, Hounsfield came up with the idea that one could determine what was inside a box by taking X-ray readings at all angles around the object. He then set to work constructing a computer that could take input from X-rays at various angles to create an image of the object in "slices". Applying this idea to the medical field led him to propose what is now known as computed tomography. At the time, Hounsfield was not aware of the work that Cormack had done on the theoretical mathematics for such a device.
In 1979, Hounsfield and Cormack received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Hounsfield received numerous awards in addition to the Nobel Prize. He was appointed Commander of the British Empire in 1976 and knighted in 1981. In 1975, he was elected to the Royal Society. He was awarded the Howard N. Potts Medal in 1977.
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