Saturday, February 17, 2007

Serendipity and the value of mad dreamers

"Two men looked through prison bars.
One saw mud; the other, stars"
- author unknown

An article in the San Antonio Express-News about a seminar celebrating the 25th
anniversary of FDA approval for cochlear implants includes some very interesting tidbits about its invention and the rocky road it took in going from the bright idea of an Australian physician, the son of a near-deaf pharmacist, to a technology that has given 120,000 people worldwide - including me - the gift of hearing.

Mostly, it demonstrates how great a role serendipity, creativity and sheer dogged stubbornness often go into the development of an idea which everyone says won't work, but which one or two people refuse to give up on.

The inventor, Dr. Graeme Clarke,

"...found a job at University of Melbourne, but couldn't find anyone to fund his research. His colleagues were hostile, he recalled. 'Most scientists said it could not work and it would not achieve speech understanding.'

After earning only a few hundred dollars giving lunch speeches to groups like the Rotary Club, he attracted the interest of Sir Reginald Ansett, who owned two airlines and a Melbourne TV station. Ansett agreed to hold a telethon to raise money for Clark's bionic ear research. For several years it was an annual event.

Luckily, the research began after the birth of the silicon chip, which allowed them to build small. The next problem was a surgical one: how to thread a small bundle of wires through the spiral-shaped cochlea, or inner ear. Early attempts in animals failed.

On a trip to the beach with his family, he threaded a long blade of grass into a nautilus shell and found that if the base were thicker than the tip it would pass easily into the center. That dictated the shape of his bundle of wires."

So, you see, because dear Dr. Graeme Clarke had a deaf father, and was a bit mad, and refused to believe his idea wouldn't work, and got the attention of a wealthy patron, and picked up a shell and a blade of grass on the beach on an outing with his family -

I can hear today.

Marvelous, really. :)

And by the way - God bless each and every single Australian who gave so much as a single Aussie 5-cent piece to those telethons, back when it was all hypothetical. You have given the world something absolutely wonderful, and we - 120,000 of us and growing daily, around the planet - can never repay you.




Blogger Xtreme English said...

Wow! What a great blog! I'll be back often. I'm scheduled to get a CI on March 1. I've been deaf longer than you've been alive, but I'm looking forward to whatever it is happens (hopefully most of it positive).

3:20 p.m.  

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