Up until about a century ago, the ability to actually look inside of something or even someone without physically opening them up was simply a matter of science fiction. But if an age filled with pocket-sized computers, solar panels, and electric powered cars have taught us anything, it is that science eventually catches up with science fiction.
When Thomas Edison invented the first machine able to perform x-ray inspections, the medical field was changed forever. The scientific understanding of how the body functions and methods to treat illnesses and injuries improved drastically, seemingly overnight.
However, as incredible as this new piece of technology was, as with any other piece of technology, there was room for improvement. The first x-rays were only capable of taking images from one angle.
Using the original x-ray inspection technology as a base, a British engineer by the name of Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, England, along with South African-born physicist Allen Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts, invented computerized tomography (CT) scanners. For this achievement, the pair would later be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for contributions to medicine and science.
Rather than using just one x-ray image, CT scans (or computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan) uses a computer that collects data from several x-ray images of structures inside of a human or animal’s body which are then converted into pictures that can be viewed on a special monitor.
Essentially, tomography is the process of generating a 2-dimensional image of a section through a 3-dimensional object.
The first CT scanner that Hounsfield and Cormack ever developed took up to several hours to collect the raw data for a single scan or slice. It then took days for the computed tomography scanning to reconstruct just a single image from all of the raw data.
Now, the latest multi-slice CT systems are able to collect up to four slices of data, in just 350 milliseconds. To reconstruct a 512 by 512 matrix image from millions of data points, takes less than a second.
As digital x-ray inspections technology, composite analysis, and tomography equipment continues to improve, who knows what we will be able to look inside next.