Friday, February 20, 2009

Allan Cormack

This Monday (February 23) will mark the 85th anniversary of the birth of Allan Cormack (1924-1998), who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with Godfrey Hounsfield) for the "development of computer assisted tomography".

Last year Christopher Vaughan published a book titled
Imagining the Elephant: A Biography of Allan MacLeod Cormack. A book review by Reginald Greene in the December 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 359, Pages 2735-2736) states that
"This brief book is a fascinating biography. The author, Christopher Vaughan, warmly sketches Cormack as a quietly gregarious man, traces his Scottish parentage and antecedents, follows his schooling and family life in South Africa, and mines the origins of his research into CT [Computed Tomography] at the University of Cape Town, latter at Cambridge University, and during his subsequent years in the United States at Tufts University and at the Harvard University Cyclotron Laboratory."
I haven't read Vaughan's book yet, but it is high on my list of things to do. You can learn more about Cormack online at the website published by the American Physical Society. For those of you who prefer to go straight to the original source, take a look at Cormack's two highly cited papers, both in the Journal of Applied Physics: Representation of a Function by Its Line Integrals, with Some Radiological Applications (Volume 34, Pages 2722-2727, 1963), and Representation of a Function by Its Line Integrals, with Some Radiological Applications. II (Volume 35, Pages 2908-2913, 1964). Warning: these papers are highly mathematical. For those who would rather not wade through the math (and shame on you for that attitude!), I recommend looking at Section 4 (An Experimental Test) of the second paper, to see perhaps the first CT scan ever made, of an aluminum phantom in air. Or, see Chapter 12 of the 4th Edition of
Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology for a discussion of the numerical algorithms underlying tomography.

Allan Cormack is a role model for all physicists (or physics students) who hope to make important contributions to medicine.

No comments:

Post a Comment