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The Evolution of Biomedical Engineering

Hyattsville, MD

Biomedical Engineering is the interfusion of medicine, biology and engineering. It seamlessly blends technology with healthcare providing new innovative solutions and advancements. It can be as simple and useful as a crutch or as complicated as genome editing. It is a very diverse field and the range of what can be done with or considered biomedical engineering is vast.

BME Biomedical engineering prosthetics crutches crutch innovation prosthetic medicine Otto schmitt Willem Johan Kolff Robert Koffler Jarvik
Man with prosthetic left leg and crutches

Biomedical Engineering is not new like what some may expect . There is evidence of biomedical engineering all the way back to 1069 to 664 B.C. (Choi, 2007). In 2000, an Egyptian mummy was found with a functioning prosthetic big toe. Another really early example was the Roman Capua leg which is thought to be from 300 B.C and was believed to be the earliest prosthetic before the discovery of the Egyptian mummy toe. Over time, biomedical engineering has evolved into what it is today.

This would not be possible without the work and ideas of many people and pioneers. One of these pioneers was Otto Schmitt. He is sometimes referred to as a father of biomedical engineering and has helped to establish the field of biomedical engineering (Otto Schmitt: A Father of Biomedical Engineering and Master Gadgeteer, 2004). One thing he is known for is the Schmitt trigger although he called it a thermionic trigger (Components101, 2019). The Schmitt trigger “converts an analog input signal to a digital output signal”. It has many different applications (Madpcb, n.d.). This however is not his only scientific contribution and he has a lot of other scientific work. Another thing that he developed was the vector cardiographic lead system (SVEC III). In addition to his scientific contributions, Schmitt also “was involved in early organizational activities, which included the first large professional BME meeting in Minneapolis in 1958” (Patterson, 2020). “By the late 1960’s, the first biomedical engineering departments were formed at the University of Virginia, Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University” (Navigate the Circuit | History, n.d.).

Another pioneer of biomedical engineering was Willem Johan Kolff. He is known as the father of artificial organs. One reason is because he created the first kidney dialysis machine in 1943. After more experimentation in the USA, he improved his design in the 1950’s (Dialysis Patient Citizens Education Center, 2016). He also worked on improving the heart and lung machine (NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic, n.d.). Another reason he is known as the father of artificial organs is due to him making the first artificial heart (Blakeslee, 2009). Among other things, during world war II , he was a key player in starting the first blood bank in Europe (Wallace, 2020).

In addition, there was Robert Koffler Jarvik. He was an assistant to Kolff and also played a role in helping design the first artificial heart (Encyclopedia of World Biography, n.d.). He also founded his own company. He managed Symbion Inc and founded Jarvik Research Inc. While running Jarvik Research Inc, the company worked on the “Jarvik 2000 Left–Ventricular Assist System”(Encyclopedia of World Biography, n.d.). This device would assist hearts with pumping blood in the left ventricle for heart failure patients who didn’t need a full artificial heart. Jarvik was an innovative inventor and holds many patents (Robert K. Jarvik Inventions, Patents and Patent Applications - Justia Patents Search, n.d.).

In addition to what some of the pioneers worked on, there are many more interesting discoveries and inventions. One well known biomedical engineering invention is the x-ray. This device has improved millions of lives. It has made the diagnosis of certain problems possible and more efficient. Another BME invention that is less known is all the different types of nanotechnology used within the field. One application of nanotechnology in BME is the detection and treatment of certain types of cancers (Tech, 2017). Another application of this nanotechnology is the delivery of chemicals and “biological substances” (Ray & Bandyopadhyay, 2021) . There is already so much that has been created with biomedical engineering so one may think that it has reached its peak and nothing else can be developed with it. However, there is still so much more still in development currently and that can be achieved in the future.

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Blakeslee, S. (2009, February 13). Willem Kolff, Doctor Who Invented Kidney and Heart Machines, Dies at 97. The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Choi, C. Q. (2007, July 27). World’s First Prosthetic: Egyptian Mummy’s Fake Toe. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Components101. (2019, May 7). Introduction to Schmitt Trigger. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Dialysis Patient Citizens Education Center. (2016, March 10). A Brief History of Dialysis. Dpcedcenter. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from,patient%20suffer%20from%20kidney%20failure.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. (n.d.). Jarvik, Robert Koffler. Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Madpcb. (n.d.). SCHMITT TRIGGER. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Navigate the Circuit | History. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Otto Schmitt: a father of biomedical engineering and master Gadgeteer. (2004, April 5). IEEE Conference Publication | IEEE Xplore. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Patterson, R. (2020, September 28). Otto Schmitt’s contributions to basic and applied biomedical engineering and to the profession. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from’s_contributions_to_basic_and_applied_biomedical_engineering_and_to_the_profession_

Ray, S. S., & Bandyopadhyay, J. (2021, January 1). Nanotechnology-enabled biomedical engineering: Current trends, future scopes, and perspectives. De Gruyter. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Robert K. Jarvik Inventions, Patents and Patent Applications - Justia Patents Search. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Tech, F. (2017, September 4). 7 Biomedical Engineering Breakthroughs that Changed Lives. Florida Tech News. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

Wallace. (2020, April 5). Medical Innovations: Under Occupation, the Development of Dialysis. The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from

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