Allan McLeod Cormack Biography

(Nobel Prize-Winning American Physicist Known for His Research on 'X-ray Computed Tomography')

Birthday: February 23, 1924 (Pisces)

Born In: Johannesburg, South Africa

Allan McLeod Cormack was a South African-American physicist, who received the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Though his primary area of research was nuclear physics and particle physics, he was noted for his contributions towards X-ray computed tomography. After completing his graduation and post graduation studies in physics and crystallography respectively, he took up research at the St. John's College, Cambridge. Between 1950 and 1956, he worked as a lecturer at the University of Cape Town following which he spent a sabbatical year doing research at the Harvard University. In 1957, he commenced his job at Tufts University. He remained at the university throughout his career, and also served as Chairman of the Physics Department from 1968 to 1976. In the 1960’s he came up with a mathematical formula that enabled the compilation of a precise image developed from data collected measurements of X-rays passing through the body from various directions. Though Allan M. Cormack and Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounasfield conducted studies independently, they were jointly awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for ‘for the development of computer assisted tomography’. He was among the few laureates to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine without having earned a doctorate degree in medicine or any other field of science.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 74


Spouse/Ex-: Barbara Jeanne Seavey

father: George Cormack

mother: Amelia MacLeod Cormack

children: Jean Cormack, Margaret Cormack, Robert Cormack

Born Country: South Africa

Physicists American Men

Died on: May 7, 1998

place of death: Winchester, Massachusetts, United States

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates In Physiology

Cause of Death: Cancer

City: Johannesburg, South Africa

Notable Alumni: University Of Cape Town

More Facts

education: University Of Cape Town, St John's College, Cambridge

awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1979)
National Medal of Science (1990)

Childhood & Early Life
Allan McLeod Cormack was born on 23 February 1924 at Johannesburg in South Africa. His father, George Cormack, was an engineer and mother, Amelia MacLeod Cormack, worked as a teacher. He had two older siblings.
In 1936, following his father’s death he along with his family shifted to Cape Town. He attended the Rondebosch Boys' High School in Cape Town.
Apart from studies at school, he was interested in playing tennis, acting and debating. He was influenced by the books of Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans and grew interested in astronomy.
He later got enrolled at the University of Cape Town to study Electrical Engineering. However, a few years later he shifted to studying physics. In 1944 he graduated with a B.Sc. in physics and the following year with a postgraduate degree M.Sc. in crystallography from the University of Cape Town.
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Upon completing his post graduate studies, he joined St. John's College in Cambridge as research student. He worked at the Cavendish Laboratory under Prof. Otto Frisch, studying radioactive isotope Helium-6.
In 1950, he shifted to Cape Town to join the University of Cape Town as a lecturer in the physics department. In Cape Town there were very few nuclear physicists and he was mentored by the head of the physics department Professor R. W. James, which enabled him to gain insights and later publish papers on the subject.
Between 1956 and 1957, he spent a sabbatical at the Harvard cyclotron with professors Norman Ransey and Richard Wilson performing experiments on nucleon-nucleon scattering. During this leave, he was offered a position of professor at the Tufts University which he accepted in 1957.
In the early years of the 1960’s Allan M Cormack explained the method of calculating details of flat section of soft tissues by the measurements of the reduced strength of X Rays that pass through various angles.
He thereby presented the mathematical technique for the computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan. The CAT scan was utilized to provide a clear map of the tissues within the cross section of the body by utilizing data captured by electronic detectors and X-Ray that are rotated around the body.
He continued his research and work in particle and nuclear physics, the results of which he published between 1963 and 1964. For a brief period he also pursued research regarding the CT-scanning. Beginning 1968 till 1976 he served as Chairman of the Physics Department at the Tufts University.
During the period 1970-1972, he became aware of the progress and improvements made in the field of CT-scanning and since spent time understanding the developments and tackling related issues.
Major Works
Allan M. Cormack was a physicist whose primary areas of interest in research were nuclear and particle physics. He was noted for his work related to the development of the diagnostic technique computerized axial tomography.
Awards & Achievements
He was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1979 with electrical engineer Sir Godfrey N. Hounsfield.

In 1990 he received the National Medal of Science by the President of the United States.
He was an elected member of professional societies like International Academy of Science, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Sciences and American Physical Society.
Personal Life & Legacy
On 6 January 1950 Allan M. Cormack married Barbara Jeanne Seavey. The couple had three children – daughters, Margaret Cormack, Jean Cormack and a son, Robert Cormack.
A South African citizen by birth, he became a Naturalized US Citizen in 1966.
He was suffering from cancer and died on 7 May 1998 at Massachusetts, USA. He was 74 years old at the time of his death.

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