Godfrey Hounsfield

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Sir Godfrey Hounsfield
Born Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield
28 August 1919
Nottinghamshire, England
Died 12 August 2004(2004-08-12) (aged 84)
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England
Nationality English
Fields Electrical engineer
Known for
Notable awards

Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield, CBE, FRS,[1] (28 August 1919 – 12 August 2004)[2][3][4][5][6] 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).[7][8][9][10][11]

His name is immortalised in the Hounsfield scale, a quantitative measure of radiodensity 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 [12] and more.


Childhood and education

Hounsfield was born in Sutton-on-Trent (near Newark-on-Trent), Nottinghamshire, England on 28 August 1919. He was the youngest of five children (two brothers, two sisters). 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.


Shortly before World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force as a volunteer reservist where he learned the basics of electronics and radar. After the war, he attended Faraday House Electrical Engineering College in London, graduating with the DFH (Diploma of Faraday House). Faraday House was a specialist Electrical Engineering college that provided university level education and was established in 1890, before the advent of most university engineering departments. Faraday House pioneered the use of sandwich courses, combining practical experience with theoretical study.

The suggestion that Hounsfield lacked formal engineering education to the level of a Chartered Engineer does not reflect the nature of engineering education at the time when Hounsfield was a student, or the esteem in which Faraday House was held within the profession.

EMI and later years

In 1949, Hounsfield began work at EMI, Ltd. in Hayes, Middlesex, where he researched guided weapon systems and radar. Hounsfield incorrectly gave this date as 1951 when he wrote his autobiography which is available on the Nobel Prize website. The correct date is 10 October 1949 as stated in a biography of Hounsfield.[13] 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.

Invention of the CT scanner

The prototype CT scanner

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.

Hounsfield's sketch

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. Hounsfield built a prototype head scanner and tested it first on a preserved human brain, then on a fresh cow brain from a butcher shop, and later on himself. On 1 October 1971, CT scanning was introduced into medical practice with a successful scan on a cerebral cyst patient at Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, London, United Kingdom.[14] In 1975, Hounsfield built a whole-body scanner.

Awards and honours

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.

Hounsfield was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1975.[1] In 1974, he received the Wilhelm Exner Medal.[15] He was awarded the Howard N. Potts Medal in 1977.

Personal life

He never married[citation needed] and died in 2004.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wells, P. N. T. (2005). "Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield KT CBE. 28 August 1919 - 12 August 2004: Elected F.R.S. 1975". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 51: 221–210. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2005.0014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Richmond, C. (2004). "Sir Godfrey Hounsfield". BMJ. 329 (7467): 687–687. doi:10.1136/bmj.329.7467.687.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Young, Ian (January 2009). "Hounsfield, Sir Godfrey Newbold (1919–2004)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/93911.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Oransky, Ivan (2004). "Sir Godfrey N Hounsfield". The Lancet. 364 (9439): 1032. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17049-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Kalender, W. (2004). "Worthiness of Sir Godfrey N. Hounsfield". Zeitschrift fur medizinische Physik. 14 (4): 274–275. PMID 15656110.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Beckmann, Elizabeth C. (2005). "Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield". Physics Today. 58 (3): 84. doi:10.1063/1.1897571.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Raju, T. N. (1999). "The Nobel Chronicles". The Lancet. 354 (9190): 1653–1656. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)77147-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Peeters, F.; Verbeeten Jr, B.; Venema, H. W. (1979). "Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology 1979 for A.M. Cormack and G.N. Hounsfield". Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde. 123 (51): 2192–2193. PMID 397415.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Hounsfield Article with technical references on Ganfyd medical reference site
  10. Nobel Prize Biography
  11. Hounsfield Obituary in The Daily Telegraph
  12. Gunderman, Richard (2006). Essential Radiology. Page 10
  13. Waltham, Richard; Stephen Bates; Liz Beckmann; Adrian Thomas (2012). Godfrey Hounsfield: Intuitive Genius of CT. London: The British Institute of Radiology. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-905749-75-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Beckmann, E. C. (2006). "CT scanning the early days". British Journal of Radiology. 79 (937): 5–8. doi:10.1259/bjr/29444122. PMID 16421398.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Editor, ÖGV. (2015). Wilhelm Exner Medal. Austrian Trade Association. ÖGV. Austria.