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Award for pioneering engineer who developed ultrasound

12 September 2014

A pioneering University engineer who helped develop medical ultrasound scans says he is seeking further breakthroughs as he prepares to receive one of the highest accolades in the scientific community.

Professor Peter Wells, of the School of Engineering, will be presented with a Royal Academy of Engineering award that was first won by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, in 2001.

Peter Wells

He is currently involved in developing a new type of CT scanning which is likely to be used for ultrasonic breast screening, and would particularly benefit younger women.

He is also in the very early stages of trying to develop a much faster form of ultrasound scanning.

"I hope to go on being involved forever. It's the interest of the work – you don't do it for the money," he said.

"You do it because it's interesting, and working in healthcare, you see some benefits. "When people have their ultrasound scans, they are using technology I helped develop.

"But I'm sure somebody else would've done it if I hadn't!" he added.

The medal is awarded to an engineer in the UK "whose sustained achievements have had a profound impact upon their engineering discipline".

His citation states: "Professor Peter Wells is one of the most well-known and highly regarded figures in the world of medical ultrasound. "His outstanding and sustained engineering achievements in the medical applications of ultrasound extend continuously from the 1960s to the present day."

An ultrasound scan uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of part of the inside of the body.


Last year, Professor Wells received a Royal Medal from The Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, in relation to his ultrasound research.

Professor Hywel Thomas, Director of the Geoenvironmental Research Centre in the School of Engineering, said: "I congratulate Peter on further prestigious and richly deserved recognition for his pioneering engineering research.

"In developing medical ultrasound, his work has had a profound and long-lasting impact on industry, the health service and society," added Professor Thomas, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Enterprise; and International and Engagement.

Professor Wells, whose early career was spent in Bristol, said he was proud to be associated with Cardiff, a relationship which flourished from 1971 when he was appointed Professor of Medical Physics at the Welsh National School of Medicine at the age of 35.

"I was head of one of the largest medical physics and bioengineering departments in the UK and it allowed me to get to grips with politics and survival in the wider world," he said.

"Cardiff had confidence in me from a very early age."

He went on to become Chief Physicist with the United Bristol Hospitals NHS Trust and Chair of Physics and Engineering in Medicine at the University of Bristol before returning to Cardiff.

Professor Wells added: "I think it's very important that you shouldn't only do things that are of direct benefit or interest to you.

"You should do it for the benefit of the scientific community."

Peter Wells, Professor Dame Ann Dowling and Sir John Parker (photo credit: Rob Lacey)
Peter Wells with the new President Professor Dame Ann Dowling and the past President Sir John Parker from The Royal Academy of Engineering (photo credit: Rob Lacey)

Professor Karen Holford, Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, said: "I'm thrilled that Peter's work has been further recognised with this highly prestigious award.

"Peter has dedicated his career to research which has delivered significant benefit to society.

"His work is testament to the impact and calibre of research being undertaken in the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering and I send him my sincere congratulations." ​

Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: "Using engineering science, Peter Wells has pioneered the development of ultrasonics as a diagnostic and surgical tool, which has revolutionised clinical practice.

"His vision and determination in exploiting the advantages of ultrasound as a non-invasive imaging technique have contributed to huge improvements in healthcare and he is a worthy winner of the Whittle Medal."