Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Ultrasound images Early ultrasound images from 1959 flanking a diagram of the compounding process for viewing interfaces from multiple directions.

Tom BrownThomas Graham Brown (b. 1933), engineer who developed the first practical medical ultrasound machine, to pioneer ultrasound diagnoses in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Engineering achievements

Tom Brown was responsible for converting the idea of using ultrasound scanning for medical purposes into a practical proposition.

Tom Brown trained as a Research & Development Engineer with Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, the Glasgow scientific instrument company founded by Lord Kelvin. He worked on the development of ultrasound equipment for testing welds in large pressure vessels. When he was 23, he learned that Professor Ian Donald was attempting to use one of the firm's Flaw Detectors to distinguish between fibroids and cysts and he offered to help. It became clear to Tom that some form of pictorial imaging was needed and he believed that it might be possible to make radar-like images of internal organs. Brown conceived and designed the low cost prototype which was to be the first direct contact ultrasound scanner, and had it built onto a borrowed hospital bed table in the firm's workshops. The company applied for patent protection with Brown as Inventor.

The prototype was made available to Professor Donald, assisted by Dr John MacVicar, in early 1957. They quickly realised its potential, and began exploring its clinical applications, which led to the Donald, MacVicar and Brown Lancet paper in June 1958, less than two years after the initial contact. Kelvin & Hughes insisted that the firm, including Brown, should remain in the background and encouraged Donald to become the public face of the project.

His Life

Age Event Year
Born in Glasgow, Scotland on 10th April 1933
11 Entered Allan Glen's School, Glasgow 1944
17 Technical apprentice, Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, Glasgow 1951
23 Research & Development engineer, Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, Glasgow 1956
23 Contacted Ian Donald to offer assistance in use of A-scope Flaw Detectors 1956
23 Conceived and designed prototype direct-contact ultrasound scanner 1956
25 Applied for British Patent No. 863874 "Improvements in and relating to the examination by ultrasonics of bodies having a non-planar surface" made on 28th April1958
25 The Lancet paper by Donald, MacVicar and Brown published on 7th June 1958
26 Designed fully automatic mechanical scanning machine 1959
27 British Patent 863874 published 29th March 1961
30 Head of department, Kelvin & Hughes 1963
30 Took "Diasonograph" scanner close to production readiness 1964
32 Engineer with Honeywell 1965
34 Engineer, Nuclear Enterprises Ltd, 2D medical scanners 1967
39 Research Fellow in Medical Physics, University of Edinburgh 1970
40 Team leader for multiplanar 3D scanner, Sonicaid 1973
44 Production of 3D scanner 1977
66 Quality Manager, Radiological Protection Centre, St George's Hospital, London 1999
69 "Retired" to Scotland 2002
72 Founded NoStrain Ltd to address musculoskeletal disorders affecting sonographers2005
74 Honorary Fellow ad eundem of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists2007
Awarded Ian Donald medal for technical development
81 Inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame 2014
81 Honorary Fellow of IESIS 2014

His Legacy

The significant breakthrough in the application of flaw detection equipment for medical diagnosis would not have happened in Scotland without the engineering genius of Tom Brown, the unsung hero of the invention of medical ultrasound.

More Information

Investigation of Abdominal Masses by Pulsed Ultrasound. The Lancet, 7 June 1958.
Imaging and Imagining the Fetus: The Development of Obstetric Ultrasound Malcolm Nicolson and John E E Fleming. 2013.
Development of ultrasonic scanning techniques in Scotland 1956-1979 Tom Brown. 1999. Accessed 28 September 2014.
Download: Tom Brown acceptance speech delivered by his granddaughter Emma Hutton. Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame, James Watt Dinner, 3 October 2014

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