History of the Department
The department has a distinguished history. The Middlesex Hospital, which was located a short distance from UCL, operated its first x-ray device in 1896, just months after German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen had discovered x-rays in 1895. In 1913, Sidney Russ was appointed as the world's first hospital physicist at the Middlesex Hospital. Six years later, Russ joined the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and in 1920 became the Joel Professor of Physics Applied to Medicine. This was the first Chair of Medical Physics in the world. Prof. Russ retired in 1946, after pioneering a new scientific approach to radiation protection. We now award an annual prize for our most outstanding undergraduate student in honour of Professor Russ. Prof Russ was succeeded as Joel Chair and head of the department of Physics applied to Medicine at the Middlesex Medical School by Professor Eric Roberts (1946-1971), who founded the academic journal Physics in Medicine and Biology. He was followed as head of department and Joel Professor by Prof. James Tait (1971-1982), who is believed to be the first medical physicist to be appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Meanwhile, a new Department of Medical Physics at University College Hospital (UCH) Medical School had been formed in 1943. Its first head of department was Sidney Osborn (1943-1962) who in November 2003 returned to the department to give a fascinating lecture on "Sixty years in medical physics". This lecture was recorded and can be viewed in 2 parts here:
Sidney Osborn left to become Director of Medical Physics at Kings College Hospital in 1962 and was succeeded as head of department by John Clifton. The UCH Medical School became part of UCL in 1981.
In 1987, the Middlesex Hospital Medical School merged with the UCL Medical School. As a result, the Radiation Physics and Image Processing groups at the Middlesex Hospital Medical Physics department joined the UCL Medical Physics department, led by John Clifton (who became the fourth Joel Professor in 1990).
Prof. Clifton retired in 1992, and a decision was taken to split the department into two, forming a "joint" medical physics department. One half became an academic department within the university, while the other became a department within the UCLH NHS Trust. The heads of these two departments were Professor Prof David Delpy (UCL Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering) and Professor Roland Blackwell (UCLH NHS Trust Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering). However, most staff within the two departments remained located together within the same building: Shropshire House in Capper Street. In 1993 Prof Roger Ordidge was appointed the fifth Joel Professor. Having been appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof. Delpy stood down as Head of Department in 1999 to become the UCL Vice Provost for Research, and later Chief Executive of EPSRC in 2007. He was succeeded as Head of Department by Prof Andrew Todd-Pokropek (1999-2008).
In 2004, both departments moved out of Shropshire House. The academic department moved to its current location, a new building in the centre of the UCL campus, known as the Malet Place Engineering Building. The NHS Trust department moved several times, and is currently located in the basement of the main UCLH hospital building on Euston Road. Geoff Cusick became the head of the NHS Trust department following the retirement of Prof. Blackwell in 2004, while Prof Jem Hebden became the current head of the UCL department when Prof. Todd-Pokropek stepped down in 2008. Prof. Peter Marsden succeeded Geoff Cusick as head of the NHS Trust department in 2010. In 2011, Prof Ordidge left UCL and Prof Robert Speller was appointed the sixth Joel Professor of Physics Applied to Medicine.
In 2014 the department launched a new undergraduate programme in biomedical engineering, offering BEng and MEng degrees to compliment existing BSc and MSci degrees in medical physics. So that its name would be aligned with these programmes, the department was renamed the Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering.
- Notable Events & Achievements
2016 - John Russ, son of first medical physicist Sydney Russ, visits the department with his daughter Catherine
2014 - The UCL department is formally renamed the UCL Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering.
2014 - The UCL department launches a new undergraduate programme in biomedical engineering.
2011 - Robert Speller is appointed the sixth Joel Professor.
2010 - Peter Marsden is appointed head of the UCLH/NHS department when Geoff Cusick retires.
2009 - The department takes over control of the undegraduate programmes in medical physics from the Physics & Astronomy Department.
2008 - Jem Hebden replaces Andrew Todd-Pokropek as head of the UCL department.
2006 - The Implanted Devices group organises the First International FES Sports Day.
2006 - The BORL group generates the world's first whole-brain optical tomography images of functional activity.
2005 - The Centre of Medical Image Computing was formed when David Hawkes, Derek Hill and David Atkinson join UCL from Kings College London.
2004 - The joint department leaves its rented accommodation in Shropshire House in Capper Street. The UCL department moves to the Malet Place Engineering Building. After a few years spent in the UCLH Rosenheim Building, the UCLH/NHS department eventually takes up residence in the basement of the new UCLH Hospital building in Euston Road.
2004 - Geoff Cusick becomes head of the NHS/UCLH Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering when Roland Blackwell retires.
2002 - The UCL department transfers from the UCL Faculty of Mathematics & Physical Sciences to the UCL Faculty of Engineering Sciences.
2000 - The Incontinence Technology Group designs Kylie Pants - a discrete, washable absorbent product for lightly incontinent men, women and children which is supplied in numerous countries.
2000 - A stroke patient with nerve interface and implanted amplifier/telemeter walks using natural nerve signals as the feedback to the stimulator.
1999 - Andrew Todd-Pokropek replaces David Delpy as head of the UCL Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering.
1997 - A Patient spinal cord injury is fitted with a lumbar nerve root stimulator and cycles on a recumbent tricycle.
1996 - Dr Alan Cottenden is the lead author of International Standard ISO 11948-1 (Urine absorbing aids. Part 1: Whole-product testing; November 1996) which is used by the UK NHS (and other overseas purchasing bodies) as the basis for national purchasing contracts.
1993 - Roger Ordidge is appopinted the fifth Joel Professor.
1992 - John Clifton retires, and a Joint Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering was created, with separate heads of the UCL (Dave Delpy) and UCLH/NHS (Roland Blackwell) components.
1991 - The UCL department transfers from the UCL Faculty of Clinical Sciences to the UCL Faculty of Mathematics & Physical Sciences.
1990 - John Clifton becomes the fourth Joel Professor.
1988 - The Radiation Physics and Image Analysis groups at the Middlesex Hospital merge with the UCH/UCL Medical Physics department.
1986 - First measurements of oxygenation and haemodynamics in the brains of sick babies using near infrared spectroscopy.
1983 - First measurements of the metabolism of the neonatal brain using NMR spectroscopy of phosphorus.
1982 - James Tait retires. He is replaced as head of department at the Middlesex first by Edward Williams and then, briefly, by John Tappin in 1986.
1981 - An undergraduate degree in medical physics is created by the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in collaborate with Queen Elizabeth College.
1978 - Development of electrodes to measure arterial oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in newborn babies.
1971 - Eric Roberts retires, and James Tait is appointed the new head of department in the Middlesex Hospital, and become the third Joel Professor.
1964 - The Elliott 803 computer is installed and used to generate some of the first radiotherapy treatment plans by computer.
1962 - A hyperbaric oxygen chamber is developed and used to investigate the heightened sensitivity of tumours to high oxygen concentrations. This study was unsuccessful, but the chamber was used to treat patients who had been poisoned by coal gas.
1962 - John Clifton replaces Sydney Osborn as head of the UCH department of Medical Physics.
1961 - The UCLH department uses an early ultrasound scanner called a diasonographto develop the method of measuring the head diameter as an indicator of foetal age. This is still the standard method used today.
1960 - Sidney Osborn conducts a survey of the radiation dose to patients from diagnostic and therapeutic radiology. This was part of the Adrian Report, the first national survey of radiation dose.
1956 - Physics in Medicine and Biology is founded by Prof Eric Roberts.
1946 - Sydney Russ retires and Eric Roberts becomes the new Head of the Medical Physics department in the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and the second Joel Professor.
1943 - Sydney Osborn is appointed the first head of the joint UCH and Medical School Medical Physics department.
1941 - Prof Frank Farmer begins development of the Farmer dosemeter. It becomes the standard instrument for calibrating X-ray machines in radiotherapy departments worldwide, and is still in commercial production.
1920 - Prof Sidney Russ is appointed to Joel Chair of Physics Applied to Medicine at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, the first Chair of Medical Physics in the world.
1913 - Sidney Russ is appointed as physicist to the Middlesex Hospital
- The Joel Chair of Physics Applied to Medicine
The story goes back to 1745 when the Middlesex Infirmary was established in two houses in Windmill Street close to Tottenham Court Road. In 1792, Mr S Whitbread, the then current surgeon at the Middlesex Infirmary, decided to provide the first cancer wards for the reception of sufferers of the disease, where, in the founder’s happy phrase, they could remain until “relieved by art or released by death”. Approximately forty years later, six members of the medical staff of the Middlesex Hospital petitioned the Board of the Hospital to start a Medical school and in 1835 the first medical students were admitted. Appointments were made in surgery, medicine, midwifery, anatomy & physiology, therapeutics, chemistry, forensic medicine and botany.
In the years 1895 and 1896 two discoveries took place that had a major impact on medicine and the world at large. These were the discoveries of X-rays and of radioactivity respectively. These discoveries were quickly picked up by the medical community including those clinicians working at the Middlesex hospital. In fact the first X-ray source was purchased by the Hospital secretary in March 1896 (reputedly costing £12) and hence the ‘Electrical Department’ was established. The use of ionising radiation, particularly radioactive isotopes, for treatment of disease rapidly expanded and by 1913 a large stock of radium had been acquired. At a Hospital Board meeting the application and security of the radium stock was discussed and it was decided to create an appointment to the hospital of a physicist to look after the radium. This is believed to be the first UK hospital physicist and it was Sydney Russ who held this appointment.
Apart from the developments in the Middlesex hospital and in science in the latter half of the 19th century there were other developments taking place around the world. One of these rapidly evolving industries was to make a major impact on the Middlesex hospital and its research into cancer. In 1850 and 1851 two brothers were born in the East end of London. These two boys, Henry and Barney Barnato were born into a family that was working hard but with little prospect of improving its position in society. With this in mind the boys decided to try their fortunes in the rapidly expanding diamond fields of South Africa. Hence at the age of 21 they moved to South Africa and became diamond traders. Initially they would purchase small low value diamonds and sell them at a profit. Any money they made was used to purchase claims on discontinued workings. These were workings that had been abandoned after the ‘easy’ diamonds had been found. However, Harry and Barney thought they could still hold large deposits if only the harder rocks that caused them to be abandoned could be mined. This they did and made a fortune. During this period they brought over from London three of their uncles (Solly, Jack and Wolf Joel) to help with expanding their diamond mining company and just 17 years after Harry and Barney had arrived in South Africa, in 1888, they sold out to DeBeers for £5.3M! They continued to develop a gold mining business in South Africa but they made frequent visits back to England. All five of these family members led ‘interesting’ lives. Barney committed suicide in 1897 by jumping over the side of the ship. Solly, who was with him on the trip, was initially accused of murder but was eventually cleared. Jack, whilst in South Africa, was arrested for illegal dealings in diamonds, jumped bail and came back to England where he, and brother Solly became race horse owners. They won the Irish National, the Grand National and other races many times. Wolf successfully raced Bentley motor cars and was one of the ‘Bentley Boys’ but was eventually shot on his return to South Africa in 1898.
His death was not without incident. Some months before his death he was in London and he organised a dinner at the Savoy hotel for thirteen of his friends. On the day of the dinner one could not attend and so only 13 people sat down for dinner. The staff at the Savoy said this was unlucky but Wolf took no notice. At the end of the dinner, he rose to leave and one of the guests told him he should stay because the first to leave would die early. Wolf laughed this off, left the Savoy and the following day returned to South Africa. He was shot three days later. The Savoy hotel now has a tradition that if 13 sit down for dinner Kasper, a model cat, is brought in to join them to make up the number to 14.
Henry died in 1908 in London and left an estate worth in excess of £5M. In 1910 the trustees of the estate left £250,000 to the Middlesex Hospital and Medical School and with this money the Barnato-Joel Cancer research facilities were expanded with new laboratories. In 1920 part of the Barnato-Joel bequest was used to endow the Joel Chair in Physics Applied to Medicine. This was the first chair in Physics Applied to Medicine in the world and Sydney Russ was appointed to this newly established position in the Middlesex Hospital Medical School. Since then the appointees have been Eric Roberts, James Tait FRS, John Clifton, Roger Ordidge and the current holder is Robert Speller. To celebrate the Chair a new annual lecture series, The Joel Lectures, was started in June 2012.
- The Joel Lecture
The Joel Professor of Physics Applied to Medicine was the first chair of its kind worldwide. Prof. Sidney Russ was the first holder at UCL in the 1920s. The current chair, Prof. Robert Speller, now hosts an annual event in London to celebrate the role of medical physics in promoting global advances in healthcare. Each year, a distinguished member of the Medical Physics community is asked to review developments in their specialism to a layman audience.
2017 - Prof Chris Clark REGISTER NOW
Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health
"Quantitative MRI and the quest to alter clinical practice"
Hear how novel quantitative Magnetic Resonance (MR) imaging techniques are being developed to influence clinical practice. Prof Chris Clark (UCL) is one of the leading scientists working in this field and he will give an overview of new imaging methods and how they are used in a leading Children's Hospital. The Joel Lecture will be followed by a Reception in the South Cloisters.
The Joel Lecture is free, but you will need to register for a ticket using Eventbrite.
2016 - Dr Sarah Bohndiek
University of Cambridge
"Shedding light on tumor metabolism"
Novel imaging techniques are helping to elucidate the role of oxygen in cancer. Sarah Bohndiek is one of the leading young scientists working in this field and she will give an overview of how biomedical optics can aid this research effort, detailing both the technological development as well as giving examples of biomedical applications in living subjects.
2015 - Dr Andrzej Kacperek
Manager of the National Centre for Eye Proton Therapy, part of the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust
"Can nuclear particle therapy fill a gap?"
The story of proton therapy from one of its pioneers. Andrzej Kacperek gave a personal account of how particle therapy was introduced to the world of cancer treatment 25 years ago. Andrezj described how proton beams can be shaped with precision that makes it possible to treat some of the most difficult tumours (tumours in the eye). He also outlined what the future may hold for the UCL/UCLH facility.
2014 - Professor Molly Stevens
FRENG, Prof of Biomedical Materials & Regenerative Medicine, Department of Materials, Imperial College
"Healing the Body With Materials"
Bio-responsive nanomaterials are of growing importance with potential applications including drug delivery, diagnostics and tissue engineering. A disagreeable side effect of longer life-spans is the failure of one part of the body – the knees, for example – before the body as a whole is ready to surrender. This talk outlined the latest efforts in the design of new materials to heal the body. Prof Stevens also described how she is developing bio-functionalised nanoparticles for ultrasensitive biosensing for detection of cancer and infectious diseases.
2013 - Professor Peter Wells
CBE FRS FREng FMedSci FLSW, School of Engineering, Cardiff University
"Inside the Human Body: Seeing With Ultrasound"
During the last century, the practice of medicine has been revolutionised by “imaging” – the ability to see inside the intact human body. Nowadays, the principal methods of clinical imaging are X-ray, radionuclide and ultrasonic techniques. Ultrasonic imaging has a long history: it uses mechanical waves, usually with frequencies in the megahertz range. The method can provide two- and three-dimensional anatomical images, often in real time, as well as information about tissue motion and blood flow. Contrast agents and elasticity imaging are coming into routine clinical use, and research into computed, Doppler and photoacoustic tomography is yielding some exciting results.
The 2013 Joel Lecture is available to watch online.
2012 - Professor Steve Webb
Emeritus Professor, Institute of Cancer Research, London
"Rotation Radiotherapy: A Revolution"
Professor Webb was part of the early movement in radiotherapy towards intensity modulated and arc treatment techniques, working at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital, both in London. His research work has involved the development of a theoretical understanding of the physics of rotation radiotherapy, its subsequent development into clinical work and subsequent industrial partnership with equipment manufacturers to develop appropriate clinical systems for hospital delivery. This lecture aims to give a historical overview and personal account of the development of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, from its beginnings in the hands of a few workers scattered worldwide, through twenty years of growth into static- and rotation-based clinical treatments.
The 2012 Joel Lecture is available to watch online.