First CAT scan in 3D

W. C. Roentgen found something unique with his invisible light that passed through most everything save for metal and human bone. Just a year after his discovery, physicians employed his new discovery to see the skeleton inside a living body, for the first time definitively identifying visible breaks or fractures in human bones. If there was any downside, it was that the resulting images rendered everything flat. 100 years later an innovative technique appeared that created in effect the first 3-D x-ray.

On this day, July 19, in 1983, University of Chicago’s Michael W. Vannier, MD published a paper on his three-dimensional reconstruction of a human skull, adding in the lost three-dimensionality of computer tomography scans.

As no computers existed yet to display three-dimensional CT scans, Vannier had to improvise: he used CAD system the aircraft manufacturer McDonnel Douglas. Somehow he had discovered that the three-dimensional analysis used on aircraft surfaces could be applied to facial bone and tissue structures.