David Dewhurst

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A true pioneer of biomedical technology, David Dewhurst’s career has been influential in electro-medical equipment safety. Mr Dewhurst served in World War II, and shortly after being demobilised, he studied physiology and electronics at the University of Melbourne. By the late 1960s, Mr Dewhurst was known as an expert in programming and an established writer – sharing his knowledge through published works.  

David Dewhurst was born in Victoria, Australia, in 1919. Mr Dewhurst always had a fascination for electronics and had his own electronics workshop in his home.  

Educated at Malvern Church of England Grammar School (dux 1936), Mr Dewhurst intended to study classics at the University of Melbourne.  

However, his service in World War Two derailed that plan for six years. In 1940, Mr Dewhurst was enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, joining the Australian Corps of Signals. He was demobilised in 1946 and returned to the University of Melbourne and studied physiology and electronics. While completing his master’s degree, he took over a small electrophysiology laboratory in the department of physiology before being appointed a lecturer in 1952. With very little budget from the University, Mr Dewhurst made use of his army surplus electronic equipment and managed to transform his unit into a renowned centre of medical instrumentation. By 1959 he was awarded his doctorate for research into the biophysics of cell membranes, and in 1964 he was promoted to reader in biophysics (later biophysics and biomedical engineering). 

In 1966, Mr Dewhurst’s unit was launched into the history books as the first in Australia to have a PDP-8 minicomputer. The revolutionary technology enabled him and his unit to acquire and process electrical and mechanical physiological data in real time. Mr Dewhurst became an expert programmer and was able to share these skills with many others through his teachings. Pergamon Press published his course notes as a book, Physical Instrumentation in Medicine and Biology. 

This all led to what would become an incredibly significant contribution to Australian safety standards within medical mapping technology – he was intensely involved with measuring the electrical safety and performance of medical instrumentation, becoming Chair of Standards Australia’s (then Standards Association of Australia) electro-medical equipment committee. As Chair he helped produce a number of relevant safety standards in the early 1970s.  

Mr Dewhurst’s career continued with a focus on biomedical technology, and he went on to contribute to the development of the multi-channel cochlear implant (the bionic ear), a project inspired by his own disabled son.   

Mr Dewhurst retired in 1985 and was appointed the Member of the Order (AM) medal in 1990. Shortly after his death in 1996, the Biomedical College of Engineers Australia inaugurated the David Dewhurst award for biomedical engineering excellence. 

“Standards evolve and build upon their origins as the need arises,” said Adam Stingemore, Standards Australia’s General Manager of Engagement and Communications. “As technology advances and our world changes, Standards Australia, its committees and contributors revise and reshape existing standards and create new ones. In this sense, pioneers like David Dewhurst are essential to lay the groundwork around these safety standards for successors to review and update. It’s work we’re proud to commemorate; it’s part of the fabric of our nation's history.”  

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