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Professor Terry Coakley (1940-2006)

We were very sad to hear that Terry passed away on Saturday, 18th November, after a heroic but uncomplaining fight against cancer. He was coming daily to his laboratory, even through his last illness, until six weeks ago and his continuing interest in biophysics and especially in the young people in his charge serves as a model for us all.

For more than 41 years he contributed his mathematical expertise and physics background to the many hundreds of student projects in progress, firstly in the Microbiology Department (until 1988) and more recently in The School of Pure and Applied Biology and the Cardiff School of Biosciences.  His friendly and gentle approach to scientific and personal problems made him a favourite father-figure: his door was often a first-stop for those staff as well as students in need of guidance or consolation.

Brought up in County Cork, Terry’s first degree was in Experiment and Mathematical Physics from The National University of Ireland. His MSc in Experimental-Radiation Physics, was also from the same University.He then worked in Manchester, where he was employed in Medical Physics (radiation therapy, radioisotopes, medical and biological effects). All Terry’s subsequent career was spent in Cardiff; due largely to his devoted and meticulous experimental work our University became a world-centre for studies on the biological effects of ultrasound.  The new Department of Microbiology, housed in two large laboratories in Newport Road as well as in the Main Building in Cathays Park presented Terry with a wonderful opportunity to apply his deep understanding of physics to biology.  This was the subject of his PhD (1968-1971) which was with Professor David Hughes, the first Head of Department.  Terry became a Lecturer when the MRC Group was integrated into University College in 1969.  As well as important developments in the diagnostic uses of ultrasound, the Group was devoted to the acoustic control of bubble activity during cavitation.  Some of Terry’s earlier major innovative contributions revolved about cell disruption techniques, fundamental to the success of subsequent subcellular fractionation methods still used in most biological laboratories.

Terry continued his work with a series of distinguished sabbatical visitors: Wes Nyborg (University of Vermont), Floyd Dunn (University of Illinois), Bob Gould (Middlebury College) and Larry Crum of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis.  In the summer of 1974 Terry worked with Ernest Neppiras on cavitation bubble activity in 1MHz sound fields.  This led to his interest in the study of surface waves at membrane interfaces.  The break-up of heated erythrocytes is an important example of interfacial instability.  Similar events occur during the formation of close contacts between apposed membranes and a seminal review of the basic theory of these membrane fusion steps was written with Dominique Gallez from the laboratory of the Nobel Prize-winning physical chemist, Illya Prigogine.  In 1984, completely new uses of ultrasound were devised in Terry’s group, whereby particles and cells can be moved to preferred positions in a standing-wave field, and novel ultrasonic chambers were custom-designed and constructed in-house for different applications.  Manipulation of particles, droplets, or mammalian cells in suspension to concentrate them or to form aggregates has led to a host of useful new methods.  These include separation from the suspending fluid using radiation forces, detection of antigens by the agglutination of antibody coated particles, and ultrasonic filtration (e.g. for rapid plasma preparation from whole blood for ‘near-patient’ samples, or for very turbid environmental samples).  Enhancements of up to 2,000 fold over standard antibody sensitivities have been achieved using the commercially-developed Immunosonic (TM) system, and for meningococcal antigens the new diagnostic method rivals that based on DNA, and most importantly, is extremely rapid.  More recently these principles have been harnessed for bringing cells together in physiological medium for hybridoma formation by electrofusion.  Using ultrasonic standing waves cells can be washed gently or deposited on surfaces.  Studies of cell-cell adhesion in suspension, away from the influences of solid substrata, have been performed in levitated cell aggregates (monolayers) of neural cells, chondrocytes, prostate epithelial and cancer cells, with particular attention to the early steps of cytoskeletal reorganisation and receptor interactions. Clearly, the potential of these novel manipulative methods in biophysics is widespread, and their wider biomedical and industrial development is still at an early stage.  Extensive collaborations across the Cardiff School of Biosciences (between Microbiology and Connective Tissues Research Groups) and the University (with Medical Microbiology), European and American Universities, Medical Centres, Hospitals and biomedical companies signifies the world-wide acclaim that Terry’s work has achieved.  Terry’s deep erudition, meticulous attention to detail and inspirational guidance of his young disciples will ensure that his work will be continued.

Terry became Senior Lecturer in Microbiology in 1977, was awarded his DSc from the National University of Ireland in 1981, became a Reader in 1984, and then became Professor in Biophysics at Cardiff in 1986.  He was Head of the Department of Microbiology from 1987 until merger with UWIST in 1988.

Our heartfelt sympathies go to his wife, Pauline and to Margaret, Ruth and Mary.