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The chambers of the heart and coronary arteries

The beauty of… radiology imaging

Consultant radiologist, Judith Babar, finds beauty in the complex anatomical forms and patterns which translate into the function of a heart beating or the inhalation of air formed as a result of radiology imaging

In our The Beauty Of… series we look at beauty outside of the world of make-up and hairspray, inviting individuals working across different fields to muse on what they find beautiful. From the exquisite symmetry of cars to the gory tropes of horror.  Here, consultant radiologist, Judith Barbar, muses on the beauty of radiology imaging.

As a junior doctor working 56-hour shifts and dealing with trauma patients and their desperate relatives it was often hard to see the beauty in medicine. I questioned the choice I’d made to become a doctor. Yet, when I discovered imaging in medicine it appealed to my aesthetic inclinations. After qualifying as a doctor, and training for a further five years, I became a consultant radiologist specialising in the heart and lungs for 12 years in Cambridge. It’s quite a surreal existence sitting in a dark room studying beautiful yet complex images of the human body and coming to a diagnosis. I am a bit like a hermetic Sherlock Holmes that most patients aren’t even aware of.

Several years ago I saw Helmut Newton’s X-ray series. The famous photographer took some of his models wearing millions of dollars-worth of jewellery and stilettoes to a radiologist. The resulting images were a wonderful and witty inversion of fashion - adornments and anatomy.

Since then, advances in imaging technology have afforded us more insight into the internal beauty of the body, which before would have only been the rare privilege of surgeons. The complex anatomical forms and patterns which translate into the function of a heart beating or the inhalation of air are profoundly beautiful.

When it comes to the human body, conventional beauty is significantly influenced by bilateral symmetry: the more symmetrical the more attractive. However, going inside the body is like another dimension to beauty entirely because the symmetry becomes less important and the patterns take precedence. The spirals and fractal-like structures of branching blood vessels and airways of the lung echo those of the nature around us; the beauty of an unfolding fern leaf, the spiral of a shell or a breaking wave.

The images of the human body created in radiology are universal regardless of race, sex and age thereby removing judgment or prejudice; a language of beauty, going beyond the superficial.

Here are some of my favourites: