Quest For Perfection

Charnley’s goal was to perfect the materials and procedures used in joint replacement surgery.


He did not think twice about testing materials on himself – for example injecting himself under the skin with granulated plastics to see which caused the least inflammation.


When it became apparent that most of the 300 operations using Teflon would fail, Charnley ensured that he personally carried out every revision surgery that proved necessary to recover his patients' health.

John Charnley in the operating theatre


Charnley was a meticulous scientist who would leave no stone unturned in his search to understand the behaviour of synthetic materials in the human body.

His large collection of post-mortem specimens was the result of his undertaking the delicate task of obtaining his patients' consent to allow their artificial hip to be used for research after their death.


Charnley pioneered the fight against hospital-based infections. He designed a special surgical suit, the clean air operating theatre and a system for handling surgical instruments that significantly reduced the chances of patients contracting infections during orthopaedic operations.

the clean air operating theatre


John Charnley's successful hip replacement operation quickly spread worldwide. He was knighted and made a Fellow of the Royal Society for his development of a procedure that relieves the pain and increases the mobility of millions of arthritis sufferers.

Sir John died in 1982.

Read on: Remembering Sir John

Charnley in his workshop

Left top: Charnley operating in the clean air operating theatre and wearing the body exhaust suit. Left bottom: The clean air operating theatre.