About » Founding Member

Terry Coakley 1940-2006

It is with deep sadness that we report the death, from cancer, of Professor Terry Coakley on Saturday, 18th November 2006. Terry was a founder member of the USW Network and a valued friend and inspiration to those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him. It will be of no surprise to anyone who knew Terry that he attended his laboratory daily up until six weeks before his death, and in his final week he was sending messages to collaborators in other institutions. The following is based upon an obituary written by Dr Despina Bazou and Professor David Lloyd of the School of Biosciences at the University of Cardiff, with significant additions from Dr. Jeremy Hawkes from Manchester University.

Brought up in County Cork, Terry's first degree was in Experimental and Mathematical Physics from The National University of Ireland. Following an MSc in Experimental Radiation Physics he moved to Manchester, where he was employed in Medical Physics. All of Terry's subsequent career was spent in Cardiff and it is due largely to his meticulous experimental work that Cardiff University became a world centre for studies on the interaction of ultrasound with biological systems. The Department of Microbiology in Cardiff presented Terry with an opportunity to apply his understanding of physics to biology. This was the subject of his PhD (1968-1971) which was undertaken with Professor David Hughes, the first Head of Department.

Terry became a Lecturer in the Cardiff MRC Group in 1969. As well as developing diagnostic uses of ultrasound, the Group investigated the acoustic control of bubble activity during cavitation. Some of Terry's earliest innovative contributions involved cell disruption techniques, fundamental to the success of subsequent subcellular fractionation methods still used in most biological laboratories. This was a development from the international goal at that time to prove ultrasound has no non-thermal biological effects. This proof has stood the test of time and has provided the assurance that medical imaging is harmless when carried out with proper precautions against heating and cavitation.

Terry continued his work with a series of distinguished sabbatical visitors: Wes Nyborg (University of Vermont), Floyd Dunn (University of Illinois), Bob Gould (Middleburg College) and Larry Crum of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. In the summer of 1974 Terry worked with Ernest Neppiras on cavitation bubble activity in 1MHz sound fields. This led to his interest in the study of waves at membrane interfaces and generated seminal review of the basic theory of membrane fusion steps, written with Dominique Gallez from the laboratory of the Nobel Prize-winning physical chemist, Illya Prigogine. Terry became Senior Lecturer in Microbiology in 1977, was awarded his DSc from the National University of Ireland in 1981. In 1984 Terry became a Reader and began to work on new uses of ultrasound that allowed particles and cells to be moved to preferred positions in standing-wave fields (USW). He became Professor in 1986 and was Head of the Department of Microbiology in University College Cardiff from 1987 until its merger with UWIST in 1988.

In 1988 USW were used to bring cells together for electrofusion in hybridoma production. In the same year latex bead antibody agglutination test sensitivities were enhanced up to 2,000 fold with sound fields and in 1999 working with EMS, Terry's work was critical in the development of the Immunosonic, for identifying meningococcal antigens; this new diagnostic method rivals, and is faster than, methods based on DNA.

From the late 80s and through the 90s he worked on many USW cell filtration ideas for bacteria suspensions and whole blood: developing, enhancing and modulating sedimentation and mini-scale continuous laminar flow filters. After 1999 he moved to driving cells to sensor surfaces and pursued parallel research developing an understanding of the many acoustic streaming phenomena which occur in resonant systems, while also combining his interest in ultrasound with his fascination for cell-cell contacts and revisiting the development of cell disruptors.The potential of the acoustic manipulation techniques in biophysics is widespread. Their wider biomedical and industrial development is still at an early stage and indications are extremely promising.

More recently, he was the driving force behind USWNet, a network set up to promote the use of ultrasonic standing waves in life sciences. He was particularly keen to develop amongst biologists new approaches and visions of the possibilities ultrasound could provide for their activities (tissue constructs, electroporation, gene transfer and most importantly cell-cell contact). His enormous enthusiasm and energy ensured that the network spread across Europe, Japan and America as well as throughout the UK and it will surely live on in his memory. The extensive collaborations that he developed with other European and American Universities, Medical Centres, and biomedical companies demonstrate the world-wide acclaim that Terry's work has achieved.

Those that worked with Terry and were employed through him, will remember his carefully considered socialist slant, fairness and understanding of the human psyche which made him a powerful negotiator. He could use his soft Irish sense of humour, timing and choice of word for every occasion to great effect, motivating and earning the respect of old and new acquaintances alike.

His friendly and gentle approach to scientific and personal problems made him a favourite father-figure: his door was often a first-stop for those staff as well as students in need of guidance or consolation. Terry's deep erudition, meticulous attention to detail and his ability to inspire and to guide both young researchers in Cardiff and co-workers world-wide will ensure that his work will be continued.

Our heartfelt sympathies go to his wife, Pauline and to his daughters Margaret, Ruth and Mary.