Born: January 14, 1927;

Died: February 25, 2021.

PROFESSOR John Mallard, who has died aged 94, led the scientific team at Aberdeen University that developed the first all-body Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner. The technology greatly advanced the clinical treatment and diagnosis of cancer and dementia and other serious medical conditions.

Mallard, a dedicated and inspiring scientist, led a pioneering team that revolutionised medical practice and prolonged many lives. The first patient the MRI was used on, in 1980, was a man from Fraserburgh who had terminal cancer. The scan showed that he had a primary tumour in his chest, an abnormal liver and secondary cancer in his bones.

The scanner could be used to comprehensively examine almost any part of the body, including the brain and spinal cord, bones and joints, breasts, heart and blood vessels and internal organs – such as the liver, womb or prostate gland.

Speaking in 2016 as the prototype MRI prepared to go on display at the National Museum of Scotland, Mr Mallard, then 90, spoke of his pride that the technology had made such a big impact on patients’ lives.

He said: “I am delighted that the MRI scanner has helped to save so many lives over the years. It was a team of many scientists who helped to create the first one, it didn’t all come from me.”

Mallard was also an early champion of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging, which can produce detailed three-dimensional images of the inside of the body and thus greatly assist in the diagnosis of diseases.

Mallard pioneered research into PET imaging when the technology was in its infancy. In his first lecture after joining the staff at Aberdeen University he correctly predicted that PET would become one of the most powerful tools for studying human diseases. His foresight – and campaigning zeal by organising a national fundraising campaign - ensured that Scotland’s first PET facility was created in Aberdeen.

Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya, Head of the University of Aberdeen’s School of Medicine, said: “John helped change the face of medical imaging. His legacy lives on through the technology that saves lives on a daily basis and we are proud that he carried out such ground-breaking work at the University.”

John Rowland Mallard was born in Kingsthorpe, Northampton, the son of John Mallard, a grocer, and his wife Margaret (née Huckle). He won a scholarship to Northampton Grammar School attended Nottingham University and in 1952 completed his PhD on the magnetic properties of uranium.

After a year as a hospital physicist at the Liverpool Radium Institute, where he researched the differences between healthy tissues and tumours, he joined the research team at Hammersmith Hospital.

There he created a mechanised scanner which used variations in colour and density on the printouts. He explained at the time: “Although the images were very crude, the colour changes helped to pick up the tumours.”

In fact, when he published research in 1964 which suggested that MRI might be able to diagnose cancer, his findings were largely ignored.

In 1965 he was appointed the inaugural Professor of Medical Physics at Aberdeen and throughout the 1970s he built a team of specialists with Dr Jim Hutchinson which did pioneering research and developed an MRI scanner, applying it to imaging of laboratory animals.

With a typically clinical tenacity Mallard persevered with his team and, despite some reductions in grants, he perfected the scanner.

The lengthy process was certainly not straightforward. The machinery was cobbled together in Aberdeen with the aid of copper pipe from a local plumber and a tube from a children’s play park. Some of those early pieces are now historic items and much-prized exhibits by scientific organisations: one is at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, another in the Science Museum in London.

In 1980 Mallard and his team built the world’s first full-body MRI scanner, and scanned that Fraserburgh patient. Clinicians throughout the world hailed his work.

Mallard, a courteous, modest and generous man, explained the breakthrough. “X-rays were telling us everything about the bones. But we had absolutely nothing that was telling us about the soft wet tissues within the body. And that’s what MRI did.”

He also took a prominent role in the international development of medical physics and biomedical engineering. In 1980 he was the founding President of the International Union for Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine and in 1993 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

In 1992 he retired from Aberdeen University and devoted his time to gardening, doing DIY and making jewellery.

In 1998 the John Mallard Scottish PET Centre was opened in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and he was given the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen in 2004. Mallard, who was made an OBE in 1992, donated his many academic awards and medals to the Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society.

Mallard is survived by his son John, an IT consultant, and daughter, Katriona. He was predeceased by his wife Fiona, née Lawrance, whom he had married in 1958.