Clinical Physics >> History of Clinical Physics at Barts and The London

Clinical Physics


History of Clinical Physics at Barts and The London

Research, Thermographic Technique

Clinical physics and engineering support has been in existence for over 60 years at our hospitals. During that time, research and development applied to the care and treatment of patients has been an essential activity.

The Physics Department at St Bartholomew's Hospital was established by George Innes, MBE, who in 1936, together with one technician, Thomas Crichton, installed the first 1 MV x-ray unit to be used in the world for therapeutic purposes. Under his guidance, the department steadily expanded and undertook duties in the developing field of medical radiation physics. Important advances were made in radiotherapy physics, nuclear medicine and radiation safety. After George Innes retired in 1970, Dr Charles Greatorex was appointed to take charge of the re-named Radiation Physics Department, with responsibilities for radiotherapy physics and radiation safety. Dr Greatorex left the department in 1974 and his post was filled by Dr William Liversage who had special interests in radiotherapy physics and radiobiology. During 1986 he retired and was succeeded by Dr David R White. In more recent years the department’s research and development work in imaging physics and radiation safety has been strengthened.

Research, Trial with IPSM Geometric Phantom

In 1964, Bernard Watson set up the Department of Medical Electronics and soon began an extensive and vigorous research programme covering many aspects of physiological measurement. While the development of diagnostic methods was the main activity, the emphasis shifted towards therapy. Research, design and development were strengthened by the close relationship between the Medical College and hospital parts of the department. Much of the work was written up as PhD or MSc theses and many ex-students have gone on to make significant contributions in medical physics.

Notable events


Installation of 1 MV radiotherapy x-ray unit, the first megavoltage unit in the world to be used for treatment purposes.


Discovery of errors in UK primary radiation measurement standards.


Introduction of film badge personnel monitoring services.


Development of lead compensators for radiotherapy treatments.


Installation of 15 MeV linear accelerator for x-ray and electron treatments.


First cobalt-60 eye applicators developed for the treatment of retinoblastoma.


Initial work on tissue substitutes and phantoms. Processing of electroencephalogram by minicomputer. Measurement of the urethral pressure profile.


Vectorcardiology analog computer developed.


Alimentary pH profile measured by radio-telemetry capsule.


Total body irradiations (TBI) initiated.


Real-time analysis of intra-cardiac signals.


Introduction of stereotactic brain treatments.


Publication of The Physics and Dosimetry of Therapy Electron Beams.


Study of nuclear magnetic resonance characterisation of thyroid and breast tissue completed.


Study of velopharyngeal function in cleft palate patients completed.


Study of tissue substitutes and phantoms in medical ultrasound published.


Government funded research into microwave of oesophagus cancer commenced.


EPSRC funded research into high frequency ultrasound imaging and associated phantoms. IMRT research begun in Radiotherapy Physics.

Vascular and Microvascular, Vascular Scan

Overseeing all of the physics work at Barts was Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Laureate Nobel Peace Prize, 1995, who was later Professor of Physics at the Medical College of St Bartholomew's Hospital from 1949-1976. In 1981, the department moved from offering an ad hoc instrument repair service to providing a comprehensive equipment management programme, supported by dedicated, trained technical and scientific staff. In 1994 this group merged with The Royal London Hospital's Medical Equipment Department to form Clinical Equipment Management, the largest section of the Clinical Physics Department.

Radiotherapy Physics, treatment planning

The Medical Physics Department was established at The Royal London Hospital in 1943 (at this time known as The London Hospital) by Dr John Read. During his three years at The London, Dr Read continued his pioneering work in the field of x-ray dosimetry. In 1946 Dr Lloyd Kemp, OBE, became head of department and for the next twenty years built up the medical physics services to The London. His research interests continued the department's involvement in radiation dosimetry. His expertise resulted in the exceptional achievement of the discovery of errors in the primary UK and US measurement standards for which he received the prestigious Röntgen Prize. From 1966-1975 Dr Montague Cohen was head of department and the innovative development work on radiotherapy physics continued. In 1975 Dr Stanley Klevenhagen became Chief Physicist and specialised in the physics of electron dosimetry. He became the author of many key papers and books on the subject of radiation physics applied to radiotherapy.

Barts water substitute material

The Physics and Medical Electronics/Equipment Management Departments at the two hospitals were merged into a single Clinical Physics Group in 1994 and Dr David White was appointed Chief Physicist. At present the research work and postgraduate teaching activities covers Radiation Physics, Imaging, Physiological Measurements, Tissue Charectivation and Therapy Treatments. This is undertaken by nine full time funded pre and post doctoral researchers, supported by consultant grade scientists and a Lead Investigator.

The research activities of the Clinical Physics Group are compatible with the aims of the Barts and The London NHS Trust and support the Trust's objectives in the provision of healthcare to the community.

British Institute of Radiology awards made to staff:

The Röntgen Prize
1936 Dr L A W Kemp
1973 Dr M Cohen
1990 Dr P N Plowman and Physics Team
1995 Dr S Klevenhagen  

The Barclay Prize
1981 Dr D R White

Stanley Melville Award
1960 Dr M Cohen
1975 Dr S Klevenhagen