Academic recognition (Issue 34, 2010)
In Spain, Professor Clark was recognised for his pioneering research, carried out at the University of Melbourne during the 1970s, to develop the multi-channel cochlear implant. Developed commercially by Cochlear Limited, this became the first clinically successful interface between the world of sound and human consciousness – the first means of providing speech understanding to profoundly deaf children and adults.
Professor Clark is now continuing his research in bionics at La Trobe University through the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence. He is working with Centre Director, La Trobe Associate Professor Antonio Paolini, who has made advances in the physiology of electrical stimulation of the hearing nerves in preparation for the next generation of cochlear implants.
Professor Clark has received many honours for his work on the bionic ear as, over the past 20 years, the Australian designed implant captured some 70 per cent of the world market. More than 120 000 cochlear implants have been performed in 100 countries.
But he says the Zaragoza University honour is particularly gratifying because of historic connections with his field. Established in 1542, Zaragoza is one of the oldest universities in the world.
‘One of its distinguished graduates,’ says Professor Clark, ‘was the Spanish doctor, Ramon y Cajal, a founder of the scientific study of the brain, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1906. Cajal was the first to describe the complex nerve supply to the inner ear.’
Professor Clark and his team worked out how to stimulate these nerves though electrical impulses to provide artificial understanding of speech via cochlear implants.