10-Minute History of Radiology: Overview of Monumental Inventions

10-Minute History of Radiology: Overview of Monumental Inventions

Radiology has more or less been a field of medicine since the late 19th century, which means that it is a relatively new field. Despite its young age, however, there have been many major technological advancements that have completely transformed what radiology looks like and how it is practiced. Before we look at these major radiology advancements, we first have to ask a larger question: what is radiology?

What Is Radiology?

Radiology is the science of x-rays and other high-energy radiation. In medicine, radiology refers to any radiation medicine particularly the use of radiation in diagnostic imaging, nuclear medicine, and interventional treatment. Common examples of tests within the field of radiology are x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission topography (PET) scans, and ultrasounds.

Radiology has been instrumental in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of conditions such as fractured bones, cancers, brain injury, clotted arteries, strokes, tendon and muscle damage, pulmonary conditions, spinal problems, and much, much more.

History of Radiology

The history of radiology is as interesting as its techniques. Let’s look at some of the major contributions to the field and inventions that revolutionized how physicians diagnose and treat patients.


Wilhelm Rontgen discovers a new type of radiation ray and names it the x-ray. Immediately following this discovery the notes and experiments on the x-rays unique ability to show the internal, opaque structures of the body

Circa 1900

Thomas Edison invents fluoroscopy after learning about Rontgen’s discoveries. Fluoroscopic screens are then used as an alternation to still x-ray images for some time.


Rontgen is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his important contribution to the study of radiation.


George Eastman introduces the film as an alternative to the glass photographic plates previously used to capture x-ray images.


The Society of Radiographers is founded in the UK as a trade union and professional body for x-ray and radiation technicians.


Ian Donald, a Scottish obstetrician, develops the first medically used ultrasound to observe the health and growth of fetuses. He also uses the ultrasound to study lumps, cysts, and fibroids. Together with Tom Brown, and engineer, he develops a portable ultrasound machine to be used on patients.


James Robertson builds the first single-plane positron emission tomography (PET) scan at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.


Godfrey Hounsfield builds the prototype computerized tomography (CT) machine, which utilizes both x-rays and computer software to create cross-sectional images of the body. On October 1st of this year, the first successful medical scan using this machine was done on a live patient.


Paul Lauterbur develops the way to generate the first two-dimensional and three-dimensional magnetic resonance images (MRIs). In this year he published the first nuclear magnetic resonance image.

Late 1970’s

Peter Mansfield develops echo-planar imaging for MRIs by mathematically analyzing the radio signals from magnetic resonance imaging. This development allows for images to be collected much faster than previously possible.


Armenian-American physician, Raymond Vahan Damadian, develops the first commercial MRI scanner.


Julio Palmaz, an Argentine physician, develops the balloon-expandable stent and transforms interventional radiology.


Ronald Nutt and David Townsend invent the PET-CT scan which combines positron emission tomography and computerized tomography in such a way as to make it easier for physicians to locate tumors and other structures on the images. By combining these two scans into one machine, they also made it much easier and less expensive for physicians and hospitals to have access to both forms of technology.

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