The Graeme Clark Oration - Australia's most prestigious free public science event
The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people. Learn more about Graeme Clark and his work >
About the Oration
The Graeme Clark Oration informs the community about scientific advances in health and medical research, delivered by recognised global leaders in their field. The oration was established in honour of Graeme Clark who discovered how to code speech with electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve and brain pathways to restore hearing to tens of thousands of severely-to-profoundly deaf people in more than 100 countries.
The inaugural Graeme Clark Oration was held in October, 2008 and delivered by Professor Graeme Clark. This talk titled A Partnership in Research Leading to the Bionic Ear and Beyond presented a history of the development of the bionic ear by Professor Clark and his team, and the partnership between people and disciplines necessary to achieve this. It was attended by 250 people. The Oration Dinner, attended by 130 invited guests, heard addresses from several of Professor Clark’s colleagues who developed the bionic ear and several bionic ear recipients.
The second Graeme Clark Oration was delivered in March 2010 by genomics pioneer, Dr J Craig Venter. An audience of 2,000 attended the Melbourne Convention Centre, where Dr Venter delivered his oration, From Reading to Writing the Genetic Code.
The Graeme Clark Oration Dinner followed the Oration, at which 300 invited guests heard addresses from the then Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser AC, Professor Graeme Clark AC, and Professor David Penington AC, Chairman of Bionic Vision Australia. The dinner concluded with a Q&A session between Dr Venter and Professor Jim Bishop, the then Chief Medical Officer of Australia.
The third Graeme Clark Oration, The Computational Brain, was delivered in March 2011 by computational neuroscience pioneer, Professor Terrence J Sejnowski, a Howard Hughes Institute Medical Investigator and the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. Addressing an audience of 1,700 people, Professor Sejnowski described how our understanding of brain function is being used to better understand behaviour and the emergence of social robots. Professor Sejnowski described how Information Technology is critical to our future understanding of brain function. Professor Sejnowski was recently appointed by President Obama as a senior adviser on the new US BRAIN initiative.
The Oration dinner was attended by 360 invited guests and featured appearances by Professor Warwick Anderson, CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council, Nobel Laureate and Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and Professor Sam Berkovic, one of Australia’s leading epilepsy researchers. It concluded with a Q&A session with Professor Sejnowski and moderated by Professor David Penington, Chairman of Bionic Vision Australia.
The fourth Oration, Forever Young?, was delivered by Professor Dame Linda Partridge, Weldon Professor of Biometry and Director of the Institute of Health Ageing, University College London.
Professor Partridge discussed the history of research in ageing and the recent discussions regarding the role of genetics in ageing. The impact of drugs which replicate genetic alterations in prolonging lifespan was also discussed. She then turned her attention to the role of dietary restriction in improved lifespan.
The Oration was attended by over 1,000 people. The Governor of Victoria, the Honourable Alex Chernov, AC QC, introduced Professor Partridge. Laureate Professor Emeritus Graeme Clark thanked Professor Partridge at the conclusion of her oration and presented her with the Oration memento.
The fifth Oration, Global Health, Economic Growth and the End of Absolute Poverty: hopeful evidence and hard challenges, was delivered by Mr Geoff Lamb, President Global Policy and Advocacy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Mr Lamb described the extraordinary success in reducing the global population of people suffering absolute poverty, a reduction affected through investments in health and an increase in economic growth. And this transformation has taken place largely since 1980. The reduction in the incidence of absolute poverty, calculated to be equivalent to $1.25 per day, goes hand in hand with a reduction in infant mortality. The most dramatic reduction in poverty in absolute number of people is in China, where the population of those in poverty declined from about 970M in the mid 1980’s to around 280M by 2008.
The Oration Dinner that followed was attended by 610 guests, the largest ever for an Oration. Ms Natasha Mitchell of ABC Radio was the MC. Representatives from research in global health, medical and life sciences, aid agencies and NGO’s were represented, in addition to the 60-odd secondary school students and teachers. A panel discussion featuring Sir Gus Nossal, Geoff Lamb and representatives from aid agencies facilitated further discussion after the main course had been served.
The Oration was attended by over 1,600 people, including many secondary school students and their teachers.
The sixth Graeme Clark Oration, The Next Technology Wave: Biologically Inspired Engineering, was delivered on 5 June by Dr Donald Ingber, Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
In front of an audience of over 1,400 people, Dr Ingber described how the convergence of technologies was now capable of building replica human organs on a microfluidic chip to mimic the behaviour of these organs when exposed to pharmaceuticals and other substances.
The presentation was of an exceptional quality, using various media in his slides to communicate complex science in language that non-scientists could understand, it was an exceptional example of science communication at its best. The Oration and Oration Dinner was so popular on Twitter that it was a trending topic that evening - #gc02014.
The Oration Dinner was attended by 460 guests, including 60 secondary school students and their teachers. Dr Ingber advised researchers and students present to follow their passion and not be constrained by traditional thinking in pursuing their research.
Prior to the Oration, Dr Ingber have a special presentation to 110 secondary school students and teachers on his personal story of how he became a scientist, and he took questions from the audience.
You can view a short video of students and teachers who attended the 2014 Oration describe the experience by visiting the following link: http://bit.ly/1vMszk2
The seventh Graeme Clark Oration, How cells reproduce, was delivered by Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate, President of the Royal Society and Executive Director of the Francis Crick Institute. Addressing an audience of almost 2,000 people, Sir Paul described much of the work behind the research for which he jointly shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2001. It described a fundamental biological process, the cell reproductive process, commonly referred to as the cell cycle, and the experiments, some which were unsuccessful, that he and his colleagues performed over man years. As well as showing some of Sir Paul's hand-drawn diagrams, his presentation acknowledged the role played by many of his collaborators in undertaking his research. You can follow some of the Twitter conversation during the Oration and Oration Dinner at #gcopaulnurse.
Prior to delivering the Oration, Sir Paul addressed 750 secondary science students and teachers from across Victoria with an inspiring talk about his interest in science as a young boy and his progression to academia, winning a Nobel Prize and being appointed as President of the Royal Society. Students were given an opportunity to ask questions of Sir Paul. You can view the entire presentation at the following link: https://youtu.be/wXDNm-DiBfg
At the Oration Dinner, attended by 580 VIP guests, including 100 students and teachers, Sir Paul described his vision for the Francis Crick Institute, how it was important for science silos to be broken down if new and important breakthroughs were to be more timely.
About Graeme Clark
Graeme Clark is responsible for the pioneering research and development of the Bionic Ear – a multiple-channel Cochlear Implant. The Cochlear Implant has brought hearing and speech understanding to over 200,000 people with a severe-to-profound hearing loss, in more than 80 countries. His research resulted in the first clinically successful interface between the world of sound and human consciousness and has paved the way for many advances in the areas of physical and biological sciences for health care.
Graeme Milbourne Clark was born on 16 August 1935 in the New South Wales country town of Camden. His father, Colin, the local pharmacist, had suffered from deafness some years before Graeme was born. As a young boy, Graeme assisted his father to dispense medicines and serving at the front counter. His early experience with a severely deaf father was the catalyst for his effort to do something about assisting people suffering from deafness. His first primary school teacher, Mrs Pat Hider (now Colman) recalls Graeme telling her that when he grew up he wanted “to fix ears”. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Inspired by an article he read in the 1960s about attempts in the United States to electrically stimulate hearing, Graeme left his Ear, Nose and Throat practice in Melbourne to become a research student at the University of Sydney. At 34 years of age, Graeme was appointed as the Foundation Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne, the first such chair in Australasia, making him the youngest clinical professor in Australia.
“There were many times during the early stages of my involvement with the bionic ear that I could have given up, but didn’t. In spite of problems, criticisms and difficulties I felt that I just had to go on to explore the possibilities to the very end.Someone had to do it, because it was the only chance that profoundly deaf people could have of being able to hear.”
Professor Graeme Clark AC
Professor Graeme Clark was the first person to develop the multi-channel cochlear implant and to have successfully performed the world’s first implant procedure on Mr Rod Saunders in August 1978, at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1985, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first multi-channel cochlear implant. Since that first procedure in 1978, over 5,000 people in Australia and over 200,000 people around the world have received the multi-channel cochlear implant and the gift of hearing. Having restored hearing to adults, many who had once had hearing, Graeme’s attention turned to restoring hearing to children born deaf and never exposed to sound.
As Helen Keller notes, “The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man. Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people”. Professor Clark’s achievement in restoring hearing to adults and children has had a profound effect on the lives of individuals and families. Restoring the sense of hearing in an adult and giving a child the
experience of hearing and speaking, make Graeme Clark a great Australian and a great humanitarian.
“I have been impressed by the emergence of the bionic ear as a practical proposition, but even more by the promise for the future that it seems to embody... I feel that it may represent a new benchmark in the understanding of the neural and mental function in terms of their physical components. Perhaps the work will not reach such a climax for centuries, but whatever may eventuate special credit will be made to Professor Clark and his colleagues for their pioneering and successful work.”
Professor Emeritus Sir Macfarlane Burnett,
AK, OM, KBE, MD, PhD (Lond), FAA, FRS,
Nobel Laureate (Physiology & Medicine) 1985
Professor Clark’s achievements have been recognised in some of the major scientific prizes he has received. He is a rarity among scientists, having received three major scientific awards in a separate discipline of science. The Zulch Prize in 2007 was awarded by the Max Planck Society, Germany, for exceptional achievement in basic neurological research; the Otto Schmitt Award was awarded in 2009 by the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering for exceptional contributions to the advancement of the field of medical and biological engineering, and in November 2010 The Lister Medal by the Royal College of Surgeons of England in recognition of contributions to surgical science.
In 2013 Professor Clark received one of his most significant awards, the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. The Lasker Award, as it is more commonly known, is considered to be the American version of the Nobel Prize and among the most respected science prizes in the world. This was followed up in 2015 when Professor Clark was awarded the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize for outstanding achievement in bioengineering that improves the human condition, the first Australian to win this award. The Russ Prize was established by the National Academy of Engineering (USA).
Professor Clark’s legacy and impact have been substantial. As the father of medical bionics in Australia, he has trained a generation of hearing scientists and surgeons. He established the first university training in audiology in Australia and he established the Bionic Ear Institute, a leader in bionics research. Commercial development of the cochlear implant was supported by Mr Paul Trainor and the Australian Government which resulted in the establishment of Cochlear Limited, the world’s leading cochlear implant developer and supplier.
Professor Graeme Clark has displayed remarkable passion, incredible determination, bold vision and outstanding leadership. His achievements have earned him a rightful place among the greats of Australian science.
"Graeme Clark is a genuine Australian hero. We all talk about applying biomedical research and developing commercial opportunities from biomedical research, but Graeme Clark and his colleagues actually did it. The Founding of Cochlear is a major event for Australia and on the way, of course, they have also helped an enormous number of people across the world to hear properly. This has to be one of the great achievements of our science."
Laureate Professor Peter Doherty AC FAA FRS
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
The Graeme Clark Oration is delivered by global leaders in health and medical science in honour of Prof. Graeme Clark’s pioneering work in developing the bionic ear in Melbourne in the 1970’s. It is recognised as Australia’s most prestigious free public science event and is attended by secondary school students.