The ISVR at 50: Karen Woods interviews Professor Tim Leighton


Timothy Leighton is Professor of Ultrasonics and Underwater Acoustics at the University of Southampton, UK; Chairman of the Fluid Dynamics and Acoustics Research Group in the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR); and Associate Dean with responsibility for research at the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, which hosts 340 academic/research/enterprise staff and more than 370 research students.

Having obtained a scholarship to study for his first degree, he graduated in 1985 from the University of Cambridge with a Double First Class Degree in Physics and Theoretical Physics, and the highest mark of the year for an experimental project. He obtained his PhD at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, in 1988. He was then awarded Senior and Advanced Research Fellowships at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and the Engineering Physics and Science Research Council (EPSRC), which included three periods of work at the Institut de Machines Hydrauliques et de Mécanique des Fluides (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland).

He joined the ISVR in 1992 at the age of 28 as Lecturer in Underwater Acoustics, and in the same year, he completed his monograph The Acoustic Bubble (Academic Press).  In 1999, age 35, he was awarded a Personal Chair.

He is author of over 400 other publications, has appeared on radio and TV across the world, and has served on numerous international committees.

His research interests include the way sound travels through liquids (and liquid-like materials, such as the atmospheres of Venus and the Gas Giant planets). Consequently his research covers:

  • Acoustical Oceanography (how we can measure ocean properties using sound);
  • Biomedical Ultrasonics (how to ensure ultrasound does not change tissue when it should not – e.g. during foetal scanning; and ensuring that it does change tissue in a controlled way when it should – e.g. during tumour therapy);
  • Marine Zoological Acoustics (how sea creatures use and respond to sound);
  • Sonochemistry (how to produce chemical reactions in liquid using ultrasound)

He has Fellowships with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Physics, the Institute of Acoustics, and the Acoustical Society of America. The Acoustical Society of America awarded him the 2013 Helmholtz-Rayleigh Interdisciplinary Silver Medal for contributions to Biomedical Acoustics, Physical Acoustics, and Acoustical Oceanography. It is only the fifth time since 1983 that the medal has been awarded as a result of three technical committees collaborating on a nomination.  The Acoustical Society of America also awarded him the inaugural  International Medwin Prize for Acoustical Oceanography in 2004.

The Institute of Physics awarded him its 2006 Paterson Medal. The International Commission of Acoustics awarded him its inaugural (2004) Early Career Medal and Award. The Institute of Chemical Engineering gave him its 2012 Award for ‘Water Management and Supply’. The Engineer gave him its 2008 Medical & Healthcare award. The Institute of Acoustics awarded him the 1994 A. B. Wood Medal, the 2002 Tyndall Medal, the 2009 R. W. B. Stephens Medal and the 2014 Rayleigh medal. The Royal Society awarded him the 2011 Brian Mercer Award for Innovation, and elected him a Fellow in 2014.