Life As We Know It: Empirical

Empirical
/ɛmˈpɪrɪk(ə)l,ɪm-/
adjective
1. based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

“I think, therefore I am” may well be one of the most elegant epistemological dictums ever uttered. René Descartes, philosopher, mathematician and the father of empirical scientific methodology, was anything but a conventional chap. He rejected knowledge that was derived from authority, the senses and pure reason in favour of facts grounded in observation and experiment.

He is generally considered a genius, not just because he was really really clever, but because he refused to “thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices, using his intelligence honestly and courageously.” 1 Mankind in general and modern scientists in particular owe him a debt of gratitude, for he not only showed the way to unlocking the secrets of the universe, but helped free our minds from the shackles of wilful authoritarianism.

Thinking outside the box led Professor Christian Langton, another recent arrival to our hotbed village of interesting characters, turn the science of ultrasound diagnostics and treatment from plain boring to positively riveting. His latest proposition that “the primary attenuation mechanism associated with ultrasound characterisation of complex porous composites such as cancellous bone is phase interference due to variations in propagation transit time” has stirred the interest of the medical research fraternity as well as ultrasound diagnostic device manufacturers. It certainly got my attention; alas even after a second reading I was none the wiser.

To enlighten me (or shine some light on my ignorance) I invited him and his new wife to lunch, knowing that if I couldn’t make sense of his science, we could always talk about cars. I needn’t have worried. While Porsches are his passion, science is what really lights him up. He had me spellbound relating his contributions to the science of ultrasound and his current research efforts holding the promise of affordable, portable and powerful diagnostic tools and devices, that go far beyond what is currently available. Affordability in particular will allow ultrasound technology help tackle the challenges of spiralling health costs. His work on Ultrasound Transit Time Spectroscopy (UTTS) has the potential for the clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis, thought impossible via ultrasound until now, as well as improvements of conventional ultrasound imaging and more.

He is Professor of Medical Physics at QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty with impressive academic credentials. His contributions to the field of broadband ultrasonic attenuation (BUA ) have drawn international attention and have been honoured via numerous Professional Fellowship Awards in the UK, Australia and the US, culminating in the award of Doctor of Science (DSc) in 2007.  A prolific publisher in the field of science, technology and clinical utility, Professor Langton arrived in Australia from the UK in 2007 and settled in Jacobs Well in 2012.

He is currently renovating a delightful fishing cottage with the help his wife, Jan. After a heart-warming romance, they only recently celebrated their union in one of Jacobs Well’s magical spots, the mangrove lined waterways edge of Cormorant Crescent, at the back of his cottage.  And yes, we did talk about cars, given his penchant for German automotive engineering. His 1979 Porsche 911, with an exhaust note that would make the Top Gear crew weep with envy, being my favourite.

Scientists like Professor Langton, the unsung heroes of mankind’s incredible medical technology advances, deserve our cheers as much, if not more, than our sporting stars.

So go on, next time you drive past his white Porsche 911, honk if you agree!

1 generally attributed to Albert Einstein