Robert Fettiplace began his studies at Cambridge University, with a degree in medical sciences (1968) then a PhD in biophysics. In 1974 he joined Denis Baylor to work on turtle photoreceptors, initially at the University of Colorado, Denver, then Stanford University.
He returned to Cambridge University in 1977, switching to the auditory system, and published a remarkable series of papers on the sensitivity and frequency selectivity of hair cells in the turtle cochlea.
He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990, and in the same year, moved to the USA to become Professor of Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison. Here, Fettiplace continued making advances in recording and measuring the motions of hair bundles and the properties of hair cell ion channels, including on the role of mammalian outer hair cells in sound signal amplification.
He was Steenbock Professor of Neural & Behavioural Sciences, UW-Madison, from 1991-2011. In 2011 he became Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.