Global science prize to Graeme Clark

Global science prize to Graeme Clark

08 Sep 2009

One of the world's major scientific prizes - the Otto Schmitt Award for exceptional contributions to advancements in medical and biological engineering - has been awarded to La Trobe University's Distinguished Professor Graeme Clark.


Caption: Dr Chyrisse Heine, Professor Graeme Clark, Rebecca French, and Dr Tony Paolini

The award is made every three years by the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering which represents research organisations from more than 50 countries.   

It is being presented to Professor Clark at the opening session of the World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering in Munich, Germany today, Tuesday 8 September.

In his acceptance speech ‘The Multi-channel Cochlear Implant-Past, Present and Future’ Professor Clark will recognize the contributions made first at the University of Sydney, then the University of Melbourne and Eye and Ear Hospital, then by Cochlear Limited, and then through the creation of the Bionic Ear Institute.

Appointed to La Trobe University late last year, the pioneer of cochlear implant research now heads La Trobe’s Graeme Clark Centre for Bionic Ear and NeuroSensory Research.

The Centre is located on the University’s main Melbourne campus at Bundoora.  From here Professor Clark and his team are spearheading the development of the next generation of high-fidelity bionic ear.
The aim is to substantially enhance the audio quality of cochlear implants to a point where it may even be possible to achieve excellent musical appreciation.  
The Australian developed bionic ear has already captured some 70 per cent of the world market where more than 120,000 cochlear implants have been performed in 100 countries over the past 20 years.
Accepting the award, Professor Clark highlighted how the success of the bionic ear resulted from multi-institutional and wide-ranging interdisciplinary research – in neurophysiology, neurobiology, biophysics, bioengineering, electrical engineering, surgery, psychophysics, speech science, and audiology.

‘The research has helped show how the brain codes simple and complex speech sounds, how bilateral stimulation gives more directional sound, and how speech and language develop in young children.’

He said his Centre is expanding existing techniques to include recordings from hundreds of brain cells simultaneously, and incorporate these advances in new biomaterials.

‘Research is now being undertaken at La Trobe University to see how to produce the fine temporo-spatial patterns of nerve responses for high fidelity hearing, musical appreciation and hearing in noise, as well as the relation between spoken language and Sign Language of the Deaf,’ he said.

Professor Clark’s team is also examining how deafness and sensory deficits affect brain development, especially for language.  

He believes the trinity of early diagnosis, hearing aids or cochlear implants, and auditory verbal education will help many more children to achieve their true potential.

Interview / photo opportunity:

Professor Clark will be available for media interviews on Friday morning, 14 August, 10 am, in Room 262, Biological Sciences Building 2, Bundoora campus, Melway Campus Map Reference D5.   

A cochlear implantee from overseas, involved in studies through the Centre to develop advanced implants for high-fidelity hearing, will be present.  

There will also be a demonstration of research findings, involving the Schmitt Trigger technique, which will lead to advanced electrodes for the inner ear.


Professor Graeme Clark, Tel: (03) 9439 0064; Mob: 044 880 7201 or Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, Tel: (03) 9479 2315; Mob: 041 226 1919.


Dr Otto H. Schmitt after whom the award is named, was a German scientist, who pioneered ‘Biomimetics’ which uses electronics to mimic nature [seen in Clark’s mimicking brain function in the development of the Bionic ear]. Otto Schmitt’s work led to the ‘Schmitt Trigger’, a positive feedback measuring circuit that generates a two state output – ie above or below a certain threshold – and is now used extensively in a wide range of applications.  It was fundamental to Professor Clark’s important neurophysiological research at the University of Sydney to show that a multi-channel implant would be the only way to code speech with electrical stimulation.




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