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 Rosenheim Building in Grafton Way. 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 and Prof Robert Speller was appointed the sixth Joel Professor of Physics Applied to Medicine.

Departmental Achievements

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.

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.

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.

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.

1978 - Development of electrodes to measure arterial oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in newborn babies.

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.

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 - Dr 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.

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