Professor Peter N.T. Wells is one of the most well-known and highly regarded figures in the world of medical ultrasound. After education at a highly respected Bristol school he was lured temporarily in 1954 into the world of advanced technology offered by GEC, a prestigious electrical company. There he worked as a student apprentice and studied at the University of Aston. In 1958, he obtained the BSc in Electrical Engineering. He soon realised that medical physics presented a worthwhile career and he attended a course held at the General Hospital in Bristol by Dr Herbert Freundlich. He soon took up appointment as a Basic Grade Physicist in the Bristol General Hospital with a special interest in ultrasound.
A treatment for Meniere's disease was under evaluation by the local ENT surgeons. It involved irradiating the semi-circular canals with ultrasound. The existing equipment was unsatisfactory and Peter Wells was given the task to investigate the controlled production of ultrasound. He successfully developed not only a stable generator but also a variety of measurement techniques, some of which have been rediscovered several times since, and was awarded an M.Sc. for his thesis. His Ph.D. came from investigation into the "biological effects of ultrasound", involving the study of nerve conduction in the giant squid axon. At that time interest in diagnostic uses of ultrasound was increasing and the application ideas were only limited by the available technology. Peter Wells with Ken Evans and Frank Ross built one of the World's first articulated arm B-scanner in 1964, modelled after the electronics from the bulky Diasonograph from the Donald group in Glasgow. He also constructed the first water-immersion automated ultrasonic breast scanner and developed the first catheter mounted endosonographic probe outside of Japan. In cardiology an accurate time-position recording instrument was built. Most of these devices were in clinical uses for many years until commercially available equipment appeared to replace them.
In 1969 he was one of three authors to demonstrate the feasibility of pulsed Doppler and became the first person to describe the directivities of Doppler transducers. His research on the applications of doppler ultrasound has continued until his retirement. His other important pioneering work included the design of dynamic focusing with annular array transducers, acoustic speckle and the measurement of blood flow volume rate and the quantitation of Doppler blood flow signals
Gray-scale ultrasound was reinvented in the 1970s and Professor Wells was again at the forefront providing sound experimental reasons for its implementation. The boom in diagnostic use which followed was accompanied by an increasing awareness of the possibility of biological hazard resulting from scans. Again help was forthcoming in the form of a chart derived from a review of world literature. This chart formed the basis of several national standards and contributed significantly to the "100milliwatt guideline".
In 1972, he was appointed Professor of Medical Physics at the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff. After a brief tenture, Professor Wells replaced Herbert Freundlich on retirement as Head of the Bristol Medical Physics Department. He returned to Bristol as Area Physicist and, in 1978, he was awarded a DSc by Bristol University. In 1982 he became Chief Physicist at United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust, the post he held until his retirement. His department has a staff of approximately 100 with ultrasound being one of its important activities.
His department's research interests then embraced the design of catheter-mounted probes, water immersion automatic breast scanner systems, echocardiography systems, standardization of ultrasound intensities, range gated Doppler, extraction of numerical information, review of biological effects and a study of possibility of hazard, study of characteristics of ultrasound imaging systems, swept focusing, and the techniques for the assessment of arterial disease, characteristics of Doppler signals from malignant tumors, volume flow measurement, and various Doppler applications.
Professor Wells has contributed to more than 15 books and 250 scientific articles, and is recocognised as an exceptional mentor, teacher, scientist, researcher and friend. He has lectured extensively in the United Kingdom and in over 20 countries abroad. He has been President of the British Medical Ultrasound Society, the British Institute of Radiology, and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine. He has chaired the Science Council's Science in Health Group, Radiation and Oncology Congresses, and the Royal Academy of Engineering's Focus on Biomedical Engineering. His contribution to medical ultrasound has been outstanding, and this has been recognised by the honorary memberships and fellowships conferred upon him, including honorary membership of the Royal College of Radiologists and honorary fellowships of the Australasian College of Physical Scientists in Medicine, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, and the Fellowship of Engineering. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and in 2003, Professor Wells was inducted as Fellow of the Royal Society.
Professor Wells is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the Jefferson Ultrasound Research and Education Institute (JUREI). In 1992, he was appointed Editor-in-Chief of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, the official journal of the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology. He was conferred the Ian Donald Award for Technical Merit by the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology (ISUOG) in 1998. More recently, Professor Wells was awarded the prestigious Duddell Medal from the Institute of Physics in early 2006.
Having retired not so long ago from his appointment as Chief Physicist with the United Bristol Hospitals NHS Trust and then from the foundation Chair of Physics and Engineering in Medicine at the University of Bristol, he is now part-time Chairman of the virtual Institute of Medical Engineering and Medical Physics at Cardiff University, which brings together academics from a number of departments within the university having interests in physics and engineering applied to medicine and biology, as well as maintaining his research and publications interests. His more recent innovative research interests prior to his retirement included the development of ultrasonic biomedical micro-imaging techniques (confocal acoustic microscopy), telepresence ultrasound systems and continuous-wave Doppler tomography.
As one of the most important pioneers in diagnostic ultrasonography, Professor Wells has also written many in depth articles on the history of its development, and was reponsible for producing an archive of historical articles of ultrasound development for the World Federation of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology in 2004, published on a CD-Rom.
Read here one of Professor Well's many articles on the History of the development of ultrasonography.
Back to History of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology.