Inspired by an Engineer!

A few months ago, as I listened to the radio on one of my many long car journeys, I became entranced by one of the most thought-provoking interviews I’ve ever heard.

The interviewee was Chris Toumazou, or I should say Professor Chris Toumazou, FRS, FREng, FMedSci, FIET, FIEEE, FCGI, FRSM, CEng, first Regius Professor of Engineering, Chief Scientist (Inst. Biomedical Engineering) – the list goes on.

A scientist, an inventor (he was recently awarded ‘European Inventor of the Year’) or perhaps a teacher? Certainly a prolific registrant of patents and author of over 700 published papers. He has also been instrumental – indeed inspirational - in having clinicians, scientists and engineers work closely together on finding true ‘blue sky’ solutions to complex problems, following a mantra ‘let’s be disruptive!’

With such grandiose post-nominal initials, letters and titles, you might be excused for thinking Chris benefitted from a privileged background and an expensive education. Eton or Harrow perhaps, followed by a stellar performance at ‘Oxbridge’? Well his path to success was far from conventional…

Chris described how he left school with ‘just a couple of medium grade CSEs’ and entered the family catering business. However he became inspired by his uncle – an Engineer. He trained as an electrician, and was awarded a distinction in electronics. A basic OND in Engineering followed (essentially an A Level equivalent). Some deft self-salesmanship got him a place at Oxford – at the Polytechnic. He excelled as an under graduate - his talent was quickly spotted. He completed two PhDs in the time his fellows managed just one, revolutionising micro-chip design in the process.

A post doctorate at Imperial College followed, with his analogue-to-digital work leading to mobile phone technology that most of us use today. At just 33 years of age he was made at Imperial’s youngest ever Professor of Engineering.

These days he’s more widely known as a world leader in bio-medical engineering, such as cochlea implants, and his genome sequencing invention has since spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. Predispositions to certain diseases can now be detected almost instantly thanks to Chris, personalised drug dosages prescribed, etc. He’s currently developing an artificial pancreas.

So all in all a remarkable individual. But I for one wonder how remarkable Chris’s uncle – that anonymous Engineer - must have been to inspire this young man to take the first steps in what became a stratospheric rise through engineering and academia.

If all of us emulated that uncle’s enthusiasm, how many more Chris Toumazou’s might emerge?

Published in Valve User Magazine Issue 34

Autumn 2015 // Issue 34
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