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Report by Dr Arpan K Banerjee Chair British Society for the History of Radiology
The venue of this year’s British Society for the History of Radiology annual guest lecture on the 22 Feb 2016 was again the magnificient Governor’s Hall at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. Over 100 attendees were priviledged to hear a masterly exposition by the distinguished science historian and author from Oxford University Dr Allan Chapman on the contributions of Marie Curie and Roentgen to modern diagnostic and therapeutic radiology set in the context of the advances in the nineteenth century science which made all of this possible.
In the eighteenth century radiation and invisible forces were everywhere. A general fascination with invisible forces was present in society with light waves , magnetism and electricity the subjects of enquiry and study by all and sundry including quacks who were respected physicians often interested in these unusual fields of scientific enquiry ( only recently in the twentieth century did the quack become a pejorative term for alternative practitioners) . Mesmer , the Viennese physician tried treating patients with magnetism which was parodied in his time by Mozart. The contributions of James Clark Maxwell to electromagnetism and work by the polymath Thomas Young who coined the term energy and other pioneering scientists of the nineteenth century paved the way for Roentgen’s great discovery in 1895.
This set off further great advances in physics including Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity from his studies on uranium and in 1899 J J Thompson’s discovery of the electron. Marie Curie met Becquerel in Paris and worked on pitchblende. In 1898 she isolated Polonium (named after her native country Poland) and radium. She was the recipient of 2 Nobel Prizes one in Physics and the other in Chemistry. Her husband Pierre was also a distinguished experimenter receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics with Marie Curie in 1903 for their work on radioactivity. He was unfortunately killed in an accident in 1906. Marie Curie became the first female Professor in the University of Paris and in 1911 won her Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In the first world war she procured xray equipment and trucks for her mobile radiography units for field hospitals. In the early days radium found itself being used for a wide range of purposes not necessarily medicinal. It was the French radiologist from the Curie Institute who in 1922 demonstrated that throat cancer could be treated with Xray treatment and went on to describe fractionated radiotherapy which became routine treatment in the 1930’s .
Dr Chapman’s address was a masterly exposition with some interesting illustrations and had the audience captivated by his erudition. All who attended remarked what an interesting and informative evening the lecture had been.
First published in April 2016 Rad Magazine.
The Hirtz Compass -
Edith and Florence Stoney: X-
Below: The Hirtz Compass
The 29th International Congress of Radiology will be held in Argentina 21-
A new book... Radium and the Secret of Life by Luis Campos, University of Chicago Press, 2015.
The BSHM Poynter lecture will take place on 12th October at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre Euston Road, London and promises to be a wonderful lecture by Dr Sam Alberti on “Finding Patients in the Medical Museum”
Reviewed by Dr Arpan K Banerjee, Chairman British Society for the History of Radiology
This year’s annual congress was again held in Liverpool which now boasts a new conference venue linked to the previously used venue in the refurbished waterfront area of this great city and again the British Society for the History of Radiology organised a successful session of talks attended by a wide range of delegates.
The invited lecture this year was delivered by the distinguished retired physicist from the Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research, Kit Hill whose talk was titled ‘Sir Joseph Rotblat in Liverpool; pioneer of medical scanning; keeper of nuclear conscience’. In 2008 Kit Hill published a brief biography of Rotblat entitled ‘Professor Pugwash:The man who Fought Nukes’
Rotblat was born in Poland in 1908 and studied physics in Warsaw obtaining his PhD in 1938. In 1939 he was recruited by Chadwick the discoverer of the neutron to work with him on the cyclotron project in Liverpool. In 1939 Otto Frisch had discovered nuclear fission and Rotblat worked with him in Liverpool on Uranium. Rotblat was aware that his work could be used to build a bomb and was part of the team that went to Los Alamos, USA to work on the Manhattan project to build the atomic bomb. Rotblat however was unhappy about the way nuclear weapons had been deployed in the Second World War and returned to Liverpool to lead the medical physics department there and became a pioneer in nuclear medicine imaging. He conducted pioneering research on radioisotopes and thyroid scanning publishing an important paper with Ansell in 1948 on this topic. He later moved to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London as the Professor of Medical Physics there retiring from the post in 1976.
Rotblat was a scientist with a deep moral conscience and ended up as a critic of
nuclear weapons. With Bertrand Russell the eminent British philosopher and Albert
Einstein he signed the now famous Russell-
This presentation was followed by proferred papers. Francis Duck delivered Adrian Thomas’s paper (Adrian was unfortunately unable to attend) on Silvanus Thompson. Silvanus Thompson was a remarkable Victorian polymath , an electrical engineer, a Professor of Physics, a prolific author known for his book ‘Calculus Made Easy’ amongst others and of course the first President of the Rontgen Society. He become a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1891 and delivered the Christmas lectures at the Royal institution in 1910. He also wrote biographies of Faraday and Kelvin and coined the term Light visible and invisible in 1896 following Rontgen’s discovery.
Francis Duck delivered the next paper titled ‘Every picture tells a story-
Paul Bland then spoke on ‘Challenges of Imaging 1896-
The final talk by Marcelo Vasquez Rios was entitled ‘A pictorial history of the Xray: from Rontgen to tomography’. The work of the early pioneers of Xray tubes and early technical advances including those of Siemens and Edison were included as well as the pioneering contributions of Rollins to radiation protection.
Again the session was well received and complemented by a stand in the exhibition.