Ultrasonic Glasgow: a celebration of The Glasgow School of Art’s contribution to the history and development of medical obstetrics ultrasound


Ultrasonic Glasgow: a story out of time Arguably the most important technological development to affect the lives of women in the last 60 or so years has been diagnostic obstetric ultrasound. For a few short years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Glasgow led the world in its development. A unique collaboration between clinical obstetrics, engineering, electronics and industrial design expertise created the very first prototypes and production models of ultrasound scanners for use in routine obstetrics scanning - anywhere in the world - for use in Glasgow hospitals The seminal 1958 Lancet paper by Donald, MacVicar and Brown first alerted the medical profession to the possibilities of the use of pulsed ultrasound in obstetrics. Initially adapted from an industrial application for checking pressure vessels, the development of ultrasound devices for obstetrics purposes faced many challenges, e.g., how to adapt the existing technology for its new purpose, how to match the apparatus to the perceptual faculties of the human user, how best to image the developing foetus in its mother’s womb, and how to ensure the design of the equipment was acceptable, usable and commercially viable for manufacture. This publication accompanies the exhibition Ultrasonic Glasgow held at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in October 2019. It acknowledges the early Glasgow pioneers of ultrasound and their innovations. While previous accounts have focussed on and celebrated the medical, technical engineering and imaging achievements of this innovation, less has been said about the role of creative design and the thought processes behind the design decisions. Drawing from archival material (including drawings), witness accounts and contemporary interviews, Ultrasonic Glasgow repositions the creative, imaginative, conceptual and technical skills of the designer, documenting and highlighting the pivotal role of design in the development process through the work of the then graduating designer, Dugald Cameron, who later became GSA’s Director between 1991 and 1999. Cameron’s work, in his first paid commission, transformed a brilliant innovation but a clumsy piece of technical apparatus into an elegant, usable product design and, in so doing, helped revolutionize the clinical management of antenatal treatment and care in Glasgow and beyond: now, every woman in the developed world has at least one scan during her pregnancy. The fragile surviving drawings and photographs endure to form the centrepiece of this exhibition to allow us to scrutinise the very marks on paper that reveal the thoughts of Cameron’s highly creative mind to make this apparatus acceptable to and usable by both patient and operator. With a focus on drawing in the academy, Dr Frances Robertson, Reader in the Department of Design History and Theory, expands accounts of the designer-engineer role through visualisations and conceptions of the ‘body’ as an element in the design process through designer training and drawing practices, discussing the sensibilities fostered by the life drawing class and its influences on design. In a companion piece, the necessity of drawing as the fundamental skill in the designer’s training is re-asserted by Cameron, still drawing daily. In earlier accounts little, if anything, has been said about the experiences of expectant mothers encountering this then pioneering technology. Susan Roan and Emma Keogh, lecturers in Communication Design, have drawn out, from midwives and expectant mothers in the period 1963-1968 fascinating testimonies of first-hand experiences of early ultrasound procedures and encounters with Donald and his team, in Glasgow hospitals. Resonating with Cameron’s achievements 60-plus years on, new imaginings for emerging ultrasound technologies are envisioned by GSA's current cohort of young Product Design Engineering students, that innovative GSA and University of Glasgow joint programme initiated and co-founded by Cameron in 1987. In highlighting the innovative applications of augmented reality from GSA’s School of Simulation and Visualisation, Koegl’s digital modelling reveals, in manipulable 3D, the development of the foetus in the stages before birth. We hope you enjoy this fascinating story which revisits and celebrates not only this vital strand of GSA’s creative and innovative DNA extending from the 1950’s into and beyond the present day but which also acknowledges the traditions of GSA’s antecedent, The Foulis Academy, and GSA’s attendant raison d’être - founded as a Government School of Design in 1845

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    This paper was published in Glasgow School of Art: RADAR.

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