Friday, October 25, 2013

The Liverpool Lads and Their Contribution to Modern Radiology

Rockvale, TN, October 24, – Electric and Musical Industries, Ltd was a British firm which had been in the electric and musical business since the early 1930s. Mostly you read about EMI on Wikipedia in connection with music, but before the Beatles arrived on the scene, EMI was most highly valued for their contributions to the British war effort in World War II. Had there been no Beatles, there would have been no enormous interest in records. And the Wiki article would not be so gushily slanted as a result.
EMI did a lot of radar and microwave stuff.
Still, they kept their hand in the record biz, but even being a major player in a specialized market, which is what music was before the British Invasion, didn't count as their chief source of income. They made their money the old-fashioned way. They invented. They were scientists, not pop stars.

One of their scientists was a fellow named Godfrey Hounsfeld. Along about the beginning of the 1950s he had an idea: If you could take enough x-rays of the human body, it might be possible to mathematically manipulate the resultant images in such a way as to show the area of interest in cross-section. There was one overwhelming problem, however: it would take a lot of math. Later, Hounsfeld realized that a computer would do the trick and began to work on an idea that would ultimately become the first transistorized computer in Britain. This took a long time, however. The research and development was extremelyexpensive, even for EMI, so the idea was shelved and then re-shelved.

George Martin was a young A&R guy at EMI Records, and he heard the Beatles, signed them to the label, and produced their records. The rest, as they say, is history.

But not quite.

The Beatles not only changed the nature of the record business, taking it from small-time, largely regional endeavors to an actual industry, they also added millions and millions of sudden wealth to EMI.

Not having anything to throw all this windfall at, EMI funded Hounsfeld and his x-ray idea. The result was what was at first called EMI-scan. We now know it as Computer Assisted Tomography, or CAT-scan. All other modalities, PET-scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), are descendants of Hounsfeld's idea.

So next time you're in an MRI tube, with those incredibly inadequate earplugs which do nothing to block out the 4000 decibel clangs, whams and that rhythmic pattern that reminds you so much of "I Wanna Hold You Hand" (I can't hide!  I can't hide!  I can't hiiiiide!) you'll know why.