Pro­fes­sor Peter Wells

Med­i­cal physi­cist in the fore­front of de­vel­op­ments in ul­tra­sound non-in­va­sive imag­ing tech­niques

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries - Pro­fes­sor Peter Wells, born May 19 1936, died April 22 2017

PRO­FES­SOR PETER WELLS, who has died aged 80, was a med­i­cal physi­cist who de­vel­oped ul­tra­sound as a non-in­va­sive imag­ing tech­nique used in med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis and surgery. Ul­tra­sound uses high-fre­quency sound waves to cre­ate an im­age of in­ter­nal struc­tures and had first been de­vel­oped for the pur­pose of un­der­wa­ter nav­i­ga­tion by sub­marines in the First World War. In the 1950s it was de­vel­oped as a di­ag­nos­tic tool by the ob­ste­tri­cian Ian Don­ald, in Glas­gow. But early machines were the size of a car and tended to yield fuzzy im­ages. Their bulky na­ture and ex­pense meant that their use in medicine was lim­ited.

In the early 1960s ENT sur­geons at Bris­tol Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, where Wells was work­ing as a ju­nior med­i­cal physi­cist, were con­sid­er­ing a sur­gi­cal treat­ment for Ménière’s disease, a dis­or­der of the in­ner ear, in­volv­ing ir­ra­di­at­ing the ear canals with ul­tra­sound. The ex­ist­ing equip­ment was un­sat­is­fac­tory and Wells was asked to de­velop some­thing that was eas­ier to use.

He de­vel­oped a minia­ture, ster­il­is­able ul­tra­sonic probe, and a va­ri­ety of mea­sure­ment tech­niques, earn­ing an MSC for his the­sis on the sub­ject. In his spare time he took a PHD in Zo­ol­ogy, on the bi­o­log­i­cal ef­fects of ul­tra­sound, un­der Her­bert Fre­undlich.

Wells re­mained at the fore­front of ul­tra­sound tech­nol­ogy, be­com­ing in­volved in the 1960s in build­ing one of the world’s first two-di­men­sional, ar­tic­u­lated-arm ul­tra­sonic gen­eral pur­pose scan­ners, con­struct­ing the first wa­ter-im­mer­sion au­to­mated ul­tra­sonic breast scan­ner and the first catheter-mounted en­dosono­graphic probe (for the de­tec­tion of gas­troin­testi­nal disease) out­side Ja­pan.

He co-au­thored a pa­per demon­strat­ing the fea­si­bil­ity of pulsed Dop­pler in ul­tra­sound, work­ing on its ap­pli­ca­tions un­til his re­tire­ment. Most im­por­tantly, his dis­cov­ery of the char­ac­ter­is­tic Dop­pler sig­nal pro­duced by ma­lig­nant tu­mours led to the de­vel­op­ment of ul­tra­sound di­ag­no­sis of many can­cers. In the 1970s he was in the fore­front of a tech­nique known as greyscale ul­tra­sound, de­vel­op­ing mea­sure­ment guide­lines to en­sure its safe ap­pli­ca­tion.

Peter Neil Tem­ple Wells was born in Bris­tol on May 19 1936 and ed­u­cated at Clifton Col­lege. He then worked as a stu­dent ap­pren­tice at GEC and took a de­gree in Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of As­ton. Af­ter at­tend­ing a course held at Bris­tol Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal by Her­bert Fre­undlich, he took up an ap­point­ment there as a ba­sic grade physi­cist with a spe­cial in­ter­est in ul­tra­sound.

In 1972 he was ap­pointed Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cal Physics at the Welsh Na­tional School of Medicine in Cardiff. On Fre­undlich’s re­tire­ment two years later he took over as head of the Bris­tol Med­i­cal Physics De­part­ment, which he built into a large in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned cen­tre.

From 1982 to 2000 he was chief physi­cist at United Bris­tol Health­care NHS Trust and from 1986 to 2000 was hon­orary pro­fes­sor in Clin­i­cal Ra­di­ol­ogy at Bris­tol Uni­ver­sity. He was hon­orary di­rec­tor of the Bris­tol’s Cen­tre for Physics and En­gi­neer­ing Re­search in Medicine from 1996 and from 2000 he was pro­fes­sor (later emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor) of Physics and En­gi­neer­ing in Medicine.

In 2011 he re­turned to Cardiff Uni­ver­sity as a dis­tin­guished re­search pro­fes­sor where, among other things, he worked on a new type of CT scan­ning, likely to be used for ul­tra­sonic breast screen­ing, as well as a much faster form of ul­tra­sound scan­ning.

Wells con­trib­uted to more than 15 books and 250 sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles, chaired and was pres­i­dent of many sci­en­tific com­mit­tees and won nu­mer­ous awards for his work. He was elected a Fel­low of the Royal Academy of En­gi­neer­ing in 1983, a Fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety of Medicine in 1984 and a Fel­low of the Royal So­ci­ety in 2003, win­ning its Royal Medal in 2013 for “the de­vel­op­ment of ul­tra­son­ics as a di­ag­nos­tic and sur­gi­cal tool which has rev­o­lu­tionised clin­i­cal prac­tice”. The fol­low­ing year he was awarded the Royal Academy of En­gi­neer­ing’s Sir Frank Whit­tle Medal. He was ap­pointed CBE in 2009. He mar­ried, in 1960, Va­lerie John­son, who sur­vives him with their three sons and a daugh­ter.

Wells: en­abled ul­tra­sound di­ag­no­sis of tu­mours

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