DUGALD Cameron, the designer, painter and former director of the Glasgow School of Art, had tests for a possible heart problem a few years ago. Was he worried about it? Not really. Fascinated would be a better word. And nostalgic. Here he was watching his heartbeat on a piece of technology that he and his colleagues help develop in the 1960s. It began as a kind of crusade, he says. Now, 60 years later, the technology was helping to keep him alive and well.

But the crusade isn’t over yet. Ultrasound is one of the most important medical developments of the last 60 years, allowing doctors to capture images inside the human body - and every pregnant woman in the developed world will have at least one scan before her baby is born. But Dugald, who’s 80, is disturbed that the story of the technology’s development is not better known. More specifically, it bothers him that not many people know about the role Glasgow played. He hopes a new exhibition in the city will help put that right.

At the heart of the exhibition, which runs at the GSA until the end of the month, is the story of a collaboration between a small team of obstetricians, engineers, and industrial designers that developed the first ultrasound machine and tried out prototypes in Glasgow hospitals. The idea of using ultrasound in obstetrics was first explored by Ian Donald, a professor of midwifery at Glasgow University, and, together with obstetrician John MacVicar and industrial engineer Tom Brown, they published their findings in The Lancet in 1958. Which is where Dugald Cameron came in.

Dugald, who was a student of industrial design at the Glasgow School of Art, says he got wind of what Tom Brown and Ian Donald were working on and went to meet them at Tom’s flat in Mount Florida. The basic idea they’d had was that a machine that was used to detect flaws in metal could be used to detect babies, but the technology was large and clunky.

“What Ian was creating, with Tom, was a new technology which is now worldwide,” says Dugald, “But I really began to think that we should look at it from the patient’s point of view. I wanted to present it better, but I also wanted to make it easier to use and Tom’s expression was ‘make it doctor-proof’ and to some extent I did.”

And so, in the dining room of Tom’s flat, the men started to sketch out ideas of how the machine might work, and how it might look. “I wanted to sort out the arrangement of the different bits of the machine,” says Dugald. “The operator would sit at it and be at the same level as the patient instead of looming over them. So they would be on an equal basis. Tom accepted my word and we drew out the layout for the machine.”

Some of the sketches Dugald produced still survive and are in the new exhibition and they demonstrate perfectly where his interests lie: at the intersection between art and science. For a while, though, he struggled to find his berth in life. The son of a shipyard worker, he grew up in Yoker and didn’t do well at school.

“I was bored out of my mind and did three or four jobs, ending up as an apprentice in Rolls Royce where my father worked but that was just as tedious,” he says. “I realised I had drawn almost every day in my life, things I couldn’t have or afford, so I drew them. The seminal point was realising maybe I should look at the art school so I applied and found industrial design.

The beauty of the GSA was that it was a home for lost dogs. It was where people would find a home that they couldn’t find anywhere else.”

Dugald quickly grew to love industrial design, even though the subject was in its infancy and the heart of the GSA was painting. “We saw industrial design as a kind of crusade,” he says, “of producing better products for people. It was an art. It was using art to make better things.” He also dearly loved the GSA and later became its director during a controversial and turbulent time for the school.

“There were three of us running it,” he says, “We thought it had worked not too badly, but nobody took us seriously outside. I only found that out afterwards. And then we got John Whiteman from the States and it didn’t work out. We were under a lot of political pressure from Edinburgh – the Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind had appointed a number of people to the board and I felt out on a limb. It was a low point because I was worried about what we were doing and the direction we were going. It wasn’t a very happy time.”

And the pressure only continued after Dugald was appointed director in 1991. “There was a suggestion from government that GSA should be merged with a bigger institution, probably with the University of Glasgow,” he says. “But I was determined of one thing above all else: to maintain our independence.”

He says the school was everything to him at the time and, far from fading in the years since his retirement in 1999, his love for the school has intensified (the fire was a low point for him, he says, but he’s convinced it will be even better after the reconstruction). A lot of his time is also taken up with promoting and explaining the part he played in creating the ultrasound machine while a student at the school.

I ask him if he thinks Glasgow has neglected the story of ultrasound? “To some extent yes,” he says. “Official Glasgow has an awful lot on its mind at the moment. I was born in the centre of Glasgow, I was educated in Glasgow, at the high school and GSA. I love my native city but I think they are in some difficulties. Why don’t we see the story of ultrasound in one of the museums?

Why don’t we see it at the V&A which is supposed to be a design museum? I think we take it for granted; it’s just every day.” He says he was thinking about the importance of ultrasound the other day and was trying to count up how many ultrasound scans are done in the UK. He lost count at eight million a year in England alone.

Dugald is also a little frustrated that the technology he helped create wasn’t developed in Glasgow. “It is one of those sad what-ifs? It was developed in Edinburgh. The full development of it could have happened, and should have happened, in Glasgow.”

He is hopeful and positive, though, about the future possibilities of ultrasound. He tells me a little about the scan he had on his heart a few years (nothing amiss was found and his health is great), but he would also like to see ultrasound used much more to treat conditions and health problems as well as diagnose them. “I don’t think it’s being pushed enough,” he says. “But I believe in non-invasive medicine for the future. I think surgery is vulgarity.”

In the meantime, he is happy to do what he has always done. He draws every single day, a habit he picked up at the Glasgow School of Art. Painting aeroplanes is his greatest love, especially planes that were never captured on film. He likes to imagine what they might have looked like in the sky. In other words, he’s still doing what he was doing with those sketches of ultrasound 60 years: taking the leap of imagination from the mind to the page.

Ultrasonic Glasgow is at The Reid Building, Glasgow School of Art, Renfrew Street, until the end of October.