Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Ultrasound in Obstetrics - Ian Donald (1910-1987)

Ian Donald served with distinction as a medical officer in the RAF during the war and it was a conjunction of experience of radar and echo-sounding, a visit to the research department of engineering firm Babcock and Wilcox and what he described as "a continuing childish interest in machines, electronic and otherwise", that led him to develop ultrasound devices to scan internal organs. Prior to this they had been used in such areas as detecting flaws in metal. As Regius Professor of Midwifery at the University of Glasgow it was natural for him to use the devices to scan unborn babies. Early experiments were disappointing, but after diagnosing an ovarian cyst, there was no turning back.

Donald's article "Investigation of Abdominal Masses by Pulsed Ultrasound", published June 7, 1958 in the medical journal The Lancet, was one of the defining publications in the field. Ultrasound devices allowed doctors to monitor the growth and development of foetuses and have now become an every-day part of ante-natal care in particular. Mothers-to-be who see the ultrasound pictures of their babies moving before they are born are also delighted with the machines.

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