CAT Scans Only Exist Because Of The Beatles

The Beatles were cool cats.
CAT Scans Only Exist Because Of The Beatles

The record label EMI, which got absorbed into a series of conglomerates a decade ago, had an incredible roster of artists for a bit. In the '50s, they handled Elvis' stuff outside of the U.S., they had Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, and they had Cliff Richard. Then in 1962, they signed The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and they'd go on to sign Pink Floyd and Queen over the next decade.

They were not, however, solely an entertainment company. Much like how Sony (who ended up buying EMI's publishing division) does music but has always also manufactured electronics, EMI started out building gramophones, and they moved into other gizmos like cameras and radars. The name EMI stands for "electric and musical industries."

Unlike Sony, EMI's electronics division wasn't doing that great in the '60s. They dropped their whole computer division early in 1962. One researcher who'd been with them for more than a decade, Godfrey Hounsfield, was now floating around the company without much of anything to do. Then with The Beatles under them, EMI found themselves suddenly swimming in money. Sure, their other artists had made them money before, but now, they had more money than they knew what to do with. They told Hounsfield he could stick around and research pretty much whatever he liked, which is the sort of freedom scientists rarely get. 

Here's what Hounsfield chose to study for the next five years: using computers to compile X-ray scans of people taken from different angles. He had pretty much no one checking up on him, letting him make all kinds of progress despite not accomplishing anything tangible. When he had enough to actually show off to people, he started collaborating with radiologists, and the British government stepped in with a lot more additional funding. The team started by experimenting on cow brains (because you can buy those from the butcher's), and then when it came time to try the new scan on humans, Hounsfield volunteered himself as the first test subject. 

Hounsfield had invented computed tomography scans, commonly known as a CAT scan (or a CT scan, if you want to skip the A). He did it with Beatles' money setting him on that path, and if he hadn't, it doesn't look like fifty other people were about to do it anyway: He won the Nobel Prize for the invention in 1979. He won that several years after actually inventing the scan, but that's how the Nobel Prize often works—you have to wait to learn an invention's significance. That's also why The Beatles won an award for British Single of the Year in 1977 for "She Loves You," a song that had come out 14 years earlier. 

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Top image: Tomáš Vendiš

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