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Involvement with 3D image reconstruction


3D imaging: Allan Cormack
Aaron Klug Scientist
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[Godfrey] Hounsfield got a Nobel Prize with Allan Cormack; Allan Cormack's the South African who preceded me. In my last year in Cape Town, my grant had run out, I was a Junior Lecturer in Physics in Cape Town for one year, the years '48 and '49; I came to Cambridge in the autumn of '49. Cormack lectured in medical physics as did I. Now, medical physics meant... really there was a course for nurses and various medical technicians. And you had to teach various things like lighting and simple things like that. I remember having to teach negative numbers and so on, all very... all very elementary. And... but Cormack, because he was lecturing and we had to do medical radiology, we had to explain about X-rays and penetrating and what you did when you took an X-ray, and where X-rays came from; it was all very elementary. And Cormack, in those days began thinking about... thinking about couldn't you do any better in the ordinary X-ray picture; he already knew about tomography, he was in touch with people in Sweden about it.

[Q] Yes.

Friends in Sweden... so he tried to develop a method of doing imagery construction in which he introduced some mathematics which involved what Tony and I called, peeling the onion. He tried to use Chebyshev's polynomials a bit of mathematics where you're trying to produce the mathematics describing the... not by three-dimensional lattice but by a series of shells, concentric shells. And you can do a... a kind of math... but, the mathematics wasn't correct Chebyshev's polynomials. But he did work hard and he did try to push the idea of three-dimension reconstruction. So he got the Nobel Prize together with... together with Hounsfield. I think it may have been partly his friends in Sweden, but, he certainly had... tried and he tried to do this on the map, he was quite well in with the Swedes... got to the School of... X-ray Analysis ... sorry, of X-ray Radiography. Now, the thing about Cormack is that, when I was in Cape Town I used to be a rock climber, weekends on Table Mountain, we used to go up on the rock, it was marvellous. Let's say we could ride on a bicycle to the foot of Table Mountain, the Bridal Path, it's 2,000... it's 3,000 feet high, but, you start at about 1,000 feet. And so I was... I wasn't a very serious rock climber, I would do what they would call B&C climbs. But an A climb was on ropes and Cormack was a pretty skilled mountain climber, I was friendly with him. He was ahead of me, he's older than me and so we went up Africa Face, which is one of the... and I came off the... he was ahead of me, he belayed me and I... I went out into outer space. And he held me, thank goodness, and he saved my life. But then, of course, you could argue the fact, if I hadn't have gone up with him I wouldn't have been in danger. In any case, that's Allan Cormack, he later... he had been... he'd been to Cambridge ahead of me but he worked with Frisch, a Physicist, and he came back to Cape Town. And that's where he went on doing the... he did this work in Cape Town.

[Q] Yes.

He did, he produced phantoms. The mathematics he developed did work up to a point, so he was able to produce the reconstructions, image reconstructions of things like cylinders of different density.

Born in Lithuania, Aaron Klug (1926-2018) was a British chemist and biophysicist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for developments in electron microscopy and his work on complexes of nucleic acids and proteins. He studied crystallography at the University of Cape Town before moving to England, completing his doctorate in 1953 at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1981, he was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. His long and influential career led to a knighthood in 1988. He was also elected President of the Royal Society, and served there from 1995-2000.

Listeners: John Finch Ken Holmes

John Finch is a retired member of staff of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. He began research as a PhD student of Rosalind Franklin's at Birkbeck College, London in 1955 studying the structure of small viruses by x-ray diffraction. He came to Cambridge as part of Aaron Klug's team in 1962 and has continued with the structural study of viruses and other nucleoproteins such as chromatin, using both x-rays and electron microscopy.

Kenneth Holmes was born in London in 1934 and attended schools in Chiswick. He obtained his BA at St Johns College, Cambridge. He obtained his PhD at Birkbeck College, London working on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus with Rosalind Franklin and Aaron Klug. After a post-doc at Childrens' Hospital, Boston, where he started to work on muscle structure, he joined to the newly opened Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge where he stayed for six years. He worked with Aaron Klug on virus structure and with Hugh Huxley on muscle. He then moved to Heidelberg to open the Department of Biophysics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research where he remained as director until his retirement. During this time he completed the structure of tobacco mosaic virus and solved the structures of a number of protein molecules including the structure of the muscle protein actin and the actin filament. Recently he has worked on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. He also initiated the use of synchrotron radiation as a source for X-ray diffraction and founded the EMBL outstation at DESY Hamburg. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1981 and is a member of a number of scientific academies.

Tags: Allan Cormack, Godfrey Hounsfield

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008