James Ambrose

Last revised by Dr Daniel J Bell on 15 Dec 2020

James "Jamie" Ambrose (1923-2006) was a neuroradiologist and co-developer of the first CT scanner with physicist Godfrey Hounsfield. Together they performed the first ever CT scan on a living patient in 1971 1.

James Abraham Edward Ambrose was born on 5 April 1923 in Pretoria, South Africa. Until his 18th birthday he studied engineering in Johannesburg, he then applied as a fighter pilot with the South African Air Force and was also attached to the Royal Air Force with whom he served from 1941 to 1945, flying Spitfires in the Middle East and southern Europe 1,2.

After the end of World War II he studied medicine at Cape Town University, where he graduated in 1952. Two years later he began his radiological training at the Middlesex Hospital. At Guy's Hospital he worked as a senior registrar and at Atkinson Morley's Hospital he became a consultant in 1962. There he first worked on the development of the use of ultrasound and radioisotope scanning for the diagnosis of brain and spinal disease and injury 1,2.

In 1969 he was asked to meet Godfrey Hounsfield who talked to him about the idea of the CT scanner. Together they developed the first prototype scanner and the first working model and performed the first ever CT scan on a live patient on 1 October 1971 1.

James Ambrose retired in 1988 and moved to North Connel, a hamlet in Argyll in West Scotland 1. He died on 12 March 2006, aged 82 2. He was survived by Sheena his wife, who had been working as a radiographer at Atkinson Morley's when they met, and whom he married in 1965. They had a son and a daughter 1.

James Ambrose received awards and honorary memberships, although many of his contemporaries believe that he was never duly recognized for his truly trailblazing achievement 1.

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: first commercial CT scanner
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