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

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

Thomas Graham Brown

1933 – 2019

Thomas Graham Brown

Thomas Graham Brown (1933-2019), 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

  1. 1933 Born in Glasgow, Scotland on 10th April
  2. 1944 Age: 11 Entered Allan Glen's School, Glasgow
  3. 1951 Age: 17 Technical apprentice, Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, Glasgow
  4. 1956 Age: 23 Research & Development engineer, Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, Glasgow
  5. 1956 Age: 23 Contacted Ian Donald to offer assistance in use of A-scope Flaw Detectors
  6. 1956 Age: 23 Conceived and designed prototype direct-contact ultrasound scanner
  7. 1958 Age: 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 April
  8. 1958 Age: 25 Married Geira Stevens
  9. 1958 Age: 25 The Lancet paper by Donald, MacVicar and Brown published on 7th June
  10. 1959 Age: 26 Designed fully automatic mechanical scanning machine
  11. 1961 Age: 27 British Patent 863874 published 29th March
  12. 1963 Age: 30 Head of department, Kelvin & Hughes
  13. 1964 Age: 30 Took "Diasonograph" scanner close to production readiness
  14. 1965 Age: 32 Engineer with Honeywell
  15. 1967 Age: 34 Engineer, Nuclear Enterprises Ltd, 2D medical scanners
  16. 1970 Age: 39 Research Fellow in Medical Physics, University of Edinburgh
  17. 1973 Age: 40 Team leader for multiplanar 3D scanner, Sonicaid, Livingston, West Lothian
  18. 1977 Age: 40 Production of 3D scanner
  19. 1999 Age: 66 Quality Manager, Radiological Protection Centre, St George's Hospital, London
  20. 2022 Age: 69 "Retired" to Scotland
  21. 2005 Age: 72 Founded NoStrain Ltd to address musculoskeletal disorders affecting sonographers
  22. 2007 Age: 74 Honorary Fellow ad eundem of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  23. 2007 Age: 74 Awarded Ian Donald medal for technical development
  24. 2014 Age: 81 Inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame
  25. 2014 Age: 81 Honorary Fellow of IESIS
  26. 2018 Age: 85 Cited in motion put by Angela Constance, MSP to Scottish Parliament on 11th December in the 60th Anniversary year of The Lancet paper.
  27. 2019 Age: 86 Died on 13 December

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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