The Somerton Man and Stochastic Processes: Derek Abbott Walks Us through the Mystery


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Oct 16 2020 65 mins   7

Derek Abbott opens up a decades-long mystery for listeners in this exploration of biomedical engineering technology applied to an unidentified dead man found on a beach in 1948.

Listen and learn

  • How electrical engineering techniques can marry medicine and biology to tackle tricky problems,
  • How he has used everything from the cut of the Somerton man's tie to the mitochondrial find in three hair roots to tackle the mystery behind this corpse, and
  • How bioinformatics, big data analytics, and deep learning are of importance for medicine, human identification, and forensics.

Derek Abbott is a professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He has a physics and electrical engineering background and explains his field as bridging electrical engineering, medicine, and biology. Therefore, he can tackle tricky problems by utilizing biology and engineering.

He believes in the importance of his academic role: "We work on difficult problems in a multidisciplinary manner," he says. "The problem isn't the goal," he adds; rather, "the tools and techniques we pick up on the way will serve society as a whole." This podcast takes an in-depth look at some of these techniques and tools regarding a curious mystery of our time.

Professor Abbot has been working on human identification, and particularly on the curious case of the Somerton Man. He tells listeners how his field informs this work by taking us through the most interesting puzzles and solutions. A mysterious figure was found dead on a beach in Australia in 1948. There wasn't a scratch on him and no one knows how he died. This complete mystery has engaged the world and Derek Abbott is on the case. He describes some biomedical engineering techniques he has used as well as plain old detective work to decipher the significance of the note in the man's pocket, how his tie fabric was cut, and what could the women's phone number on the back of his copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

He describes some amazing bioinspired engineering techniques including their attempts at mitochondrial work and other DNA workarounds, and explains the significance of the "graceful degradation of information." Listen in for a fascinating mystery and one man's dedication to following it to its end.

For more about his work see his website: adelaide.edu.au/directory/derek.abbott

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK and find Derek on Twitter at @derek_abbott60.