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Action remembers popular TV science presenter and assistive technology pioneer Heinz Wolff

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Following news of the death of Professor Heinz Wolff at the age of 89, children’s charity Action Medical Research has paid tribute to the founder of the Institute of Bioengineering at Brunel University and force behind a successful programme to help people with disabilities.

Director of Research at Action, Dr Tracy Swinfield, said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Professor Wolff’s family at this sad time.”

Professor Wolff was best known for presenting the immensely popular BBC TV show ‘The Great Egg Race’. But he was also famous for his groundbreaking work at the Institute of Bioengineering, which was set up in 1983 after Professor Wolff received a capital grant of £25,000 from Action Medical Research.

Dr Swinfield said: “Follow-up grants from Action of £125,000 and £293,171 in 1988 allowed Professor Wolff’s team at the Institute to develop their successful ‘Tools for Living’ programme. The team went on to invent a succession of devices to help disabled and elderly people with day-to-day living. From easy-to-use plug switches and handy jar-openers to equipment that let carers single-handedly lift someone who has fallen over, ‘Tools for Living’ transformed the quality of life of disabled and elderly people.”

Professor Wolff was both passionate and practical in his quest to improve the lives of people with disabilities, commenting in 2005: “We believe we’ve been a major force in changing hearts and minds about how disabled people are regarded — that you should actually do something to make their environment more accommodating. Let’s give people the right toolkit!”

Professor Wolff was a warm and enthusiastic supporter of the charity, adding: “I have fond affection for Action Medical Research. I like to describe the charity as a ‘kaleidoscope’ because of all the varied and wonderful research it funds, and still appreciate the role it played in getting the Institute off the ground.”

Dr Swinfield added: “Building on Professor Wolff’s innovative approach, research at the Institute of Bioengineering continues, for instance into smart tools for surgery, implants and sensing systems. As a charity now dedicated to helping sick and disabled babies and children, we recognise the vital role that bioengineering and the work of multi-disciplinary teams can play in saving and changing lives through innovative developments.”



  • Professor Wolff was a trustee of Action Medical Research from 1977 to 1981 and also served on the charity’s Science Advisory Panel, a vital element of Action’s ‘gold standard’ peer review system. He was a member of the charity from July 2001.
  • In 1989, Action awarded Professor Wolff the Harding Award in recognition of his ‘Tools for Living’ work.
  • The Brunel Institute for Bioengineering is located in the Heinz Wolff building at Brunel University.