Trained in physics and theoretical physics, Professor Leighton works across physical, medical, biological, social and ocean sciences, fluid dynamics and engineering, to investigate some of the world’s most intractable problems, such as climate change, food security, the understanding of marine life, the antibiotic apocalypse, pandemic preparedness, and cures for incurable or difficult-to-heal chronic wounds.
In addition, he continues to support the now-international efforts for which he advocated,
- on the inclusion of acoustic sensors on probes to other planets and moons, and
- on identifying the conditions in which the increasing exposure of the public to airborne ultrasound can be accomplished safely or should be avoided.
Professor Leighton continues his three decades of research into climate change and the ocean. However, his current main focus is on his medical inventions, as described on the citation from the Academy of Medical Sciences when they elected him to Fellow in 2018 for 'harnessing the physical sciences for the benefit of patients'. The citation reads as follows:
“[Professor Leighton is] an outstanding academic inventor whose leadership in acoustical physics of bubbles has led to the development of new medical devices and procedures. His research has dominated the field of acoustic bubbles since the appearance of his monograph in 1994, ‘The Acoustic Bubble’, which was published at the age of 29. In this, he laid out the mathematical foundation upon which much of the recent cutting-edge research on ultrasonic contrast agents, drug delivery, and focused ultrasound surgery has been based. He has exceptional ability to deliver engineering solutions to real world problems from conceptualisation to product development embracing an advanced practical knowledge of IP strategy”.
Current PhD Students
Professor Leighton has provided tutorial support across all years at the university, but his own specific course is ‘Ocean acoustics and Biomedical Ultrasonics' (ISVR3070).
External roles and responsibilities
Trained as a theoretical physicist, Timothy Leighton researched in numerous fields, including oceanography, medicine, microbiology, chemistry, zoology, climate change and fluid dynamics. He pioneered the algorithms that predicted the sounds of Mars, Venus, Titan, and Jupiter, using these to outline the design requirements for the acoustic devices and missions that we are now seeing in development. Over 2-billion babies were born after ultrasonic scanning under the safety guidelines he co-authored. He invented the world’s first and second (and currently only) sonars capable of detecting mines in bubbly coastal waters; and then used that top develop radar for the detection of catastrophe victims, and improvised explosive devices. He invented technology used for monitoring safe conditions in the world's most powerful pulsed spallation neutron source ($1.3 billion) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States.
He was the first to release and explain how humpback whales use sound to hunt with bubble nets, and to explain how dolphins echolocate in bubbly seawater using nonlinear mathematics.
In medicine, he was Principal Investigator in the project that devised equations and methods for diagnosing and monitoring osteoporosis; and for the project that invented the Lithoscope for monitoring kidney stone therapy. He assisted the Institute of Cancer Research to develop technology for tumour therapy monitoring. He provided the underlying equations and experiments for the conical bubble and the needle-free injector, which has now treated over 1-million migraine sufferers. To combat v-CJD (‘mad cow disease’), he served on the Government of the United Kingdom's Working Group of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Sub-Group.
In terms of research aimed at the environment, he was Principal Investigator for the team that that revealed that the amount of carbon dioxide dissolving into the oceans was much greater than the values previously used in predicting climate change and ocean acidification, providing the first data from at-sea trials. He introduced the equations and method used to determine the emission of carbon dioxide, methane and other ‘greenhouse’ gases from the seabed into the atmosphere, He developed the equations and method to detect and quantify leaks from undersea gas pipelines, and from disused oil wells in the seabed into which atmospheric carbon dioxide had been pumped to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.
He founded Global-NAMRIP in 2015 so that the scientific community, policymakers, public health and healthcare communities, could prepare for future ‘superbugs’ and pandemics. He founded HEFUA following his pioneering discovery that the public was being exposed, without their knowledge, to ultrasound in public places, and that a subset was suffering adverse effects (headaches, nausea, tinnitus etc.).
In addition to his university position, he is Executive General Director, a medical device manufacturer and R&D laboratory, that was founded on his patents to produce his inventions.
- The Clifford Paterson Medal of the Royal Society (2017)
- Fellow of the Royal Society (2014)
- Rayleigh Medal of the Institute of Acoustics (2014)
- The Helmholtz-Rayleigh Interdisciplinary Silver Medal (2013)
- Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (2012)
- Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship (2000)
- Helmholtz-Rayleigh Interdisciplinary Silver Medal (Acoustical Society of America) (2013)
- R W B Stephens Medal of the Institute of Acoustics. (2009)
- Institute of Chemical Engineering Award for “Water Management and Supply” (2012)
- Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation (2011)