History of the Department

Department History

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 online (Part 1 and Part 2). 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.

Four Heads

Four former heads of department. From left, Dr Sidney Osborn, Prof John Clifton, Prof David Delpy and Prof Andrew Todd-Pokropek.

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.

Departmental Notable Events & Achievements

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 diasonograph to 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