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Professor Peter Wells CBE, 1936-2017

Professor Peter Wells CBE

5 May 2017

Peter Wells CBE, Emeritus Professor of the School of Clinical Sciences has died. Emeritus Professor of the School of Clinical Sciences, Alan W Preece offers a tribute.

It was with great sadness that we have heard of the death, after a short illness at home, of Professor Peter Wells.

Peter had a very long association with both the University of Bristol and with the United Bristol Hospitals (now University Hospitals Bristol NHS trust) from 1960 to 2003 and afterwards as Emeritus Professor with the University. During those long years, he was one of the most highly regarded figures in the world of clinical medicine with his huge contribution to the science and practice of clinical ultrasound.

Peter joined the Bristol General Hospital in 1960, where in his spare time followed a PhD in Zoology on the biological effects of ultrasound, under the support of Dr Herbert Freundlich who had started Medical Physics in Bristol. For a short time, he was appointed Professor of Medical Physics in Cardiff from 1972 – 74, but on the retirement of Dr Freundlich was appointed head of Medical Physics for Avon. In the 25 years as leader of Medical Physics in Bristol, he built up the department into a large internationally known centre, as well as co-ordinating Medical Sciences in the Bristol departments of Pathology, Radiodiagnosis, Pharmacy, Audiology, Breast Screening, and Regional Breast Screening Q.A.

In 1986, he was accorded an honorary chair in Radiology by the University of Bristol and went on to establish a chair of Medical Physics within the University which allowed academic developments and achievements to be set up, as well as establishing links with international centres, notably in India, and Rochester, Bethesda, Philadelphia and New Brunswick in the USA.

Peter's prolific publication rate and editorial expertise highlighted his contribution to medicine and science, resulting in many honours, viz Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Medicine, and of the Royal College of Radiologists, as well as numerous Fellowships in the USA and Australia. In turn he became President of the British Institute of Radiology and of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. In 2003 Peter was awarded Fellow of the Royal Society and in 2008 was awarded Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his long-distinguished services to Science and Medicine.

After retirement from Bristol, Peter re-activated his links with Cardiff, where he became a Distinguished Research Professor at Cardiff University so he could continue to work on developing ultrasound CT scanning to use in breast imaging. In the process, he was awarded the Royal Medal by the Royal Society "for pioneering the application of physical sciences to the development of ultrasonics as a diagnostic and surgical tool which has revolutionised clinical practice", followed by the Sir Frank Whittle Medal by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, awarded to an engineer "whose sustained achievements have had a profound impact upon their engineering discipline". 

These last two awards summarise a remarkable career, a remarkable person that I personally hugely respected and to whom many of my colleagues owed their career during his years of service. 

There will be a Memorial Service in Clifton College Chapel, Friday 30 June at 2:30 pm.

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