Graeme Milbourne Clark

Honorary Doctor of Science

Citation delivered by Professor Gerard Sutton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Graeme Milbourne Clarke to the degree of Doctor of Science (honoris causa) on 2 August 2002.


Graeme Clark, the son of a pharmacist, began his career as a doctor. He graduated in medicine from Sydney University, initially in 1957, and was later awarded a Master of Surgery (1968) and a Doctor of Philosophy (1969). He has held a number of senior hospital appointments and has been Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne since 1970.

In the year 2000, Nelson Mandela reflected that: “Twenty-first century advances in learning and science will certainly be even more breathtaking in scope and impact on human possibilities. Shall this century provide champions of human dignity and equality to match in their success that of the great innovators in the field of science and technology?” (“What makes a Champion” Sydney 2000). Graeme Clark’s story shows that both kinds of champion, not only can, but do exist and in the one, extraordinary individual. He is both an outstanding empirical scientist and a quiet crusader for the dignity and potential of each person.

Professor Clark is the inventor of the Cochlear Bionic Ear Implant. His research has given the gift of hearing to profoundly deaf people throughout the world. To date 33,000 people in 123 countries have benefited, including 15,500 children.
Unlike some other high-profile pioneers in science these days, Graeme Clark’s motivation is not self-interest; it has grown from first hand experience with deafness in his own family, from a brilliant mind that delights in scientific discovery and from a deep sense of humanity. His research and publication records reveal an indefatigable and outstanding effort. He devoted over 20 years to the development of the Cochlear Bionic Ear Implant and is the Founder and Director of The Bionic Ear Institute and Head of the Cochlear Implant Clinic at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

The University of Wollongong is proud to acknowledge Professor Clark as a colleague. He is collaborating with our Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, exploring the capability of its “smart” materials to further improve the bionic ear. This collaboration has already led to a novel polymer coating that reduces the force required, and thus the chance of any internal damage, during insertion of the implant. More exciting breakthroughs are promised, including the use of polymers in providing a much more efficient surface for communicating with nerve cells. The eventual goal is to assist nerve regeneration, a development which will reach beyond the bionic ear research to a much wider application.

His research colleagues value Graeme Clark for his humility and his inclusive approach. An internationally acclaimed scientist, he gives his time to mentor others, especially young researchers. In this, Professor Clark exemplifies another of Nelson Mandela’s propositions that “no individual achieves and performs in isolation. It is that relationship of the champion to the team, the leader to the collective, the achieving individual to the group and community” (ibid, 2000).

Graeme Clark’s achievement has been recognised widely by his peers and by his country. He is an elected Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. Two years ago, the Australian Institute of Political Science honoured him as one of the outstanding scientists of the 20th century. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to medicine and is Senior Australian of the Year for 2001- 2002.

Chancellor, this University is privileged to add to the laurels borne modestly by this remarkable scholar and scientist. We are grateful that he has chosen to share with us his originality of thought, his enthusiasm and his high standards of collegiality. Today we applaud Graeme Clark’s achievement and welcome him as a permanent member of our University community.

It is my pleasure and privilege to present Graeme Milbourne Clark for the award of Doctor of Science honoris causa.