Derek Abbott

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Derek Abbott
Born (1960-05-03) 3 May 1960 (age 60)
Alma materLoughborough University
University of Adelaide
Known forParrondo's paradox
AwardsM. A. Sargent Medal (2019)
Barry Inglis Medal (2018)
David Dewhurst Medal (2015)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysicist and
Electronic Engineer
InstitutionsUniversity of Adelaide
Austek Microsystems
GEC Hirst Research Centre
Doctoral advisorKamran Eshraghian
Bruce R. Davis
Other academic advisorsMichael A. Brown
Doctoral studentsMark D. McDonnell
InfluencesNicholas J. Phillips
WebsiteDerek Abbott's Home Page

Derek Abbott (born 3 May 1960, in South Kensington, London, UK) is a physicist and electronic engineer.

In the 1969-1971 period, he was a boarder at Copthorne Preparatory School, Sussex, UK.[1]

During 1971-1978 he attended the Holland Park School London.[1]

In late 1977, he began work at GEC Hirst Research Centre, Wembley, UK,[2] performing research in the area of CCD and microchip design for imaging systems. Whilst working, he graduated in 1982 with a BSc in Physics from Loughborough University.[3] In 1986, he began work as a microchip designer at Austek Microsystems in Adelaide, Australia. In 1987, he joined the University of Adelaide completing his PhD thesis in Electrical & Electronic Engineering in 1995, entitled GaAs MESFET Photodetectors for Imaging Arrays, under Kamran Eshraghian and Bruce R. Davis.[4]

He became a fellow of the IEEE in 2005 "for contributions to analysis of noise and stochastic phenomena in vision systems".[5]

The Somerton Man case[edit]

In March 2009 a University of Adelaide team led by Abbott began an attempt to solve the case through cracking the code and proposing to exhume the body to test for DNA.[6] His investigations have led to questions concerning the assumptions police had made on the case. Abbott also tracked down the Barbour waxed cotton of the period and found packaging variations. This may provide clues to the country where it was purchased.[7]

Decryption of the "code" was being started from scratch.[when?] It had been determined the letter frequency was considerably different from letters written down randomly; the frequency was to be further tested to determine if the alcohol level of the writer could alter random distribution. The format of the code also appeared to follow the quatrain format of the Rubaiyat, supporting the theory that the code was a one-time pad encryption algorithm. Copies of the Rubaiyat, as well as the Talmud and Bible, were being compared to the code using computers to get a statistical base for letter frequencies. However, the code's short length meant the investigators would require the exact edition of the book used. With the original copy lost in the 1960s, researchers have been looking for a FitzGerald edition without success.[7]

An investigation had shown that the Somerton Man's autopsy reports of 1948 and 1949 are now missing and the Barr Smith Library's collection of Cleland's notes do not contain anything on the case. Maciej Henneberg, professor of anatomy at the University of Adelaide, examined images of the Somerton man's ears and found that his cymba (upper ear hollow) is larger than his cavum (lower ear hollow), a feature possessed by only 1–2% of the Caucasian population.[8] In May 2009, Abbott consulted with dental experts who concluded that the Somerton Man had hypodontia (a rare genetic disorder) of both lateral incisors, a feature present in only 2% of the general population. In June 2010, Abbott obtained a photograph of Jessica Thomson's eldest son Robin, which clearly showed that he – like the unknown man – had not only a larger cymba than cavum but also hypodontia. The chance that this was a coincidence has been estimated as between one in 10,000,000 and one in 20,000,000.[9]

The media have suggested that Robin Thomson, who was 16 months old in 1948 and died in 2009, may have been a child of either Alf Boxall or the Somerton Man and passed off as Prosper Thomson's son. DNA testing would confirm or eliminate this speculation.[6] Abbott believes an exhumation and an autosomal DNA test could link the Somerton man to a shortlist of surnames which, along with existing clues to the man's identity, would be the "final piece of the puzzle". However, in October 2011, Attorney General John Rau refused permission to exhume the body, stating: "There needs to be public interest reasons that go well beyond public curiosity or broad scientific interest."

Feltus said he was still contacted by people in Europe who believed the man was a missing relative but did not believe an exhumation and finding the man's family grouping would provide answers to relatives, as "during that period so many war criminals changed their names and came to different countries".[10]

In July 2013, Abbott released an artistic impression he commissioned of the Somerton man, believing this might finally lead to an identification. "All this time we've been publishing the autopsy photo, and it's hard to tell what something looks like from that", Abbott said.[11]

According to a 2015 feature in California Sunday, Abbott married Rachel, the daughter of Roma Egan and Robin Thomson, in 2010.[12]

In December 2017, Abbott announced three "excellent" hairs "at the right development stage for extracting DNA" had been found on the plaster cast of the corpse, and had been submitted for analysis to the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide. Processing the results could reportedly take up to a year.[13] In February 2018, the University of Adelaide team obtained a high definition analysis of the mitochondrial DNA from the hair sample from Somerton Man. They found that he and his mother belonged to haplogroup H4a1a1a, which is possessed by only 1% of Europeans.[14]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Who's Who in South Australia, Ed. Suzannah Pearce, Publ: Crown Content Pty Ltd., Melbourne, Australia, 2007, p. 1, ISBN 978-1-74095-142-5


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ IEEE Trans. Instrum. & Meas., Vol. 51, No. 2, p. 309, 2002
  3. ^ What's happening in the IEEE, March 2005 Our newest Fellow: Dr Derek Abbott FIEEE
  4. ^
  5. ^ IEEE Fellows - A Archived 2012-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2012-10-28.
  6. ^ a b Stateline South Australia, "Somerton Beach Mystery Man", Transcript, Broadcast 27 March 2009. Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 27 April 2009.
  7. ^ a b Penelope Debelle, The Advertiser (SA Weekend Supplement) "A Body, A Secret Pocket and a Mysterious Code". 1 August 2009
  8. ^ Stateline South Australia, "Somerton Beach Mystery Man", Transcript, Broadcast 15 May 2009. Archived 16 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
  9. ^ "Timeline of the Taman Shud Case". Professor Derek Abbott. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
  10. ^ Emily Watkins "We may never know" The Advertiser 16 October 2011 Pg 37
  11. ^ Watkins, Emily (16 July 2013). "After 65 years, new picture could reveal Unknown Man's identity |". Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  12. ^ Wood, Graeme. "The Lost Man". California Sunday. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  13. ^ "How the Somerton Man played cupid from the grave". 14 December 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  14. ^ Klein, Alice. "Who was the Somerton Man? Solving Australia's coldest case". Retrieved 1 December 2018.