Skip to main content
Other pages in this section

Eulogy: Thomas Graham Brown

Tom Brown was an electrical engineer whose technical ability, foresight and determination gave rise to the development of medical ultrasound.

Tom was born in 1933 and grew up in Glasgow, where as achild he showed early promise in technology, by setting up electric lighting in a house in the middle of the countryside without an electricity supply.

He attended Allan Glen's school and went on to take up an apprenticeship with Kelvin & Hughes, scientific instrument makers in Glasgow. In 1953, he enabled family and neighbours to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by building a television set from scratch.

In 1956, at the age of 23, Tom overheard conversation at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow alerted him to the fact that local obstetrician - Professor Ian Donald - was attempting to differentiate between uterine fibroids and cysts using one of the firm's metal flaw detectors. He talked to Donald directly, offering technical support and adaptation.

Brown and Donald thus began a collaboration leading to the development of the prototype for the first compound contact scanner. A working version was put to use by Donald in 1957. Together with Dr John McVicar, they published their seminal Lancet paper less than two years after their first meeting. The Diasonograph machine later went into production and was the first to be commercially available.

Tom married student nurse Geira Stevens in 1958. They went on to have three daughters and the family settled in the picturesque Fife village of Aberdour. In 1970 he secured a research fellowship with Edinburgh University's Medical Physics Department, advancing his inventive work in the direction of 3D imaging techniques. This technology was born of ideas that were so 'before their time', that it was not commercially successful.

The incredible importance of medical ultrasound was transformed to reality when in his youngest daughter's troubled second pregnancy, a sonographer picked up vasa praevia, a potentially fatal condition. Thanks to the technology he'd helped to create, his youngest grandson was delivered safely by C section at 37 weeks.

His achievements were formerly celebrated by: RCOG award of Honorary Fellow ad eundem in 2007, Scottish Engineering Glasgow Hall of Fame in 2014 and in the Scottish Parliament to mark "The 60th Anniversary of the Ultrasound Scanner " in 2018. He passed away peacefully almost a year to the day of that special recognition.

Tom is survived by his daughters Alison, Kate and Rhona, several grandchildren and a great grand-daughter, Aila.

Thomas Graham Brown, pioneer in the invention and development of medical ultrasound imaging.
Born: 10 April 1933 - Died: 13 December 2019, Aged 86.