The Beatles greatest gift... is to science

The Beatles and Abbey Road album cover

The Beatles greatest gift... is to science

As the penultimate activity for Highgate Science Week, on Friday 18 March Dr Ben Timmis, Consultant Radiologist at the Whittington Hospital, gave a lecture about the invention, development and future of the CT scanner – and what the chart-topping band The Beatles did to help its production.


Many people have had their lives saved by the pioneering scanning device, which enables doctors to view the internal structures of patients’ bodies by taking very thin (often a fraction of a centimetre) x-ray ‘slices’ across the body. Dr Timmis hailed the scanner as having had “a profound impact on modern medicine” and claimed it as one of the top five medical developments of the twentieth century.


Using the CT scanner radiologists are able to view the soft tissues in the body, which cannot easily be seen by conventional x-ray techniques, so any abnormalities can more easily be detected, lessening the need for diagnostic operations.


As a direct result of The Beatles’ success, Dr Timmis claimed, the scanner’s inventor, Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, was able to devote about four years developing the scanner from its 1968 prototype, to something that could be used in a clinical setting. His work was done in the Central Research Laboratory, a facility near Heathrow airport that was part of the EMI Group. Having sold 200 million of the Fab Four’s singles, (at seven inches, almost enough vinyl to stretch the length of the equator) the Beatles’ record company, EMI, was able to fund Hounsfield to do his research and the scanner was ready be used in hospitals in the 1970’s.


Dr Timmis said that EMI’s research had initially estimated a worldwide need for only 25 of the machines, but thanks to their decision to invest in the pioneering technology, now there are thousands of the scanners worldwide being used in hospitals every day.
Last updated24 Mar 2005
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