Engineering Week


The year was 1949.  Dr. William Bigelow and Dr. John Callaghan at the Banting and Best Institute laboratory in Toronto were studying how extreme cold could slow the human heart rate thus making it possible to conduct open heart surgery.  Although their work had led to a number of successful open heart surgeries, they were stuck on the problem of how to re-start the heart if it were to stop.  Enter Dr. John Hopps, electrical engineer and National Research Council researcher. 

Developed by Hopps and his team at the National Research Council in 1950, the first pacemaker was large (about 30 cm long, and several centimetres high and wide), the pulses were generated by vacuum tubes and the entire unit was powered by 60 Hz household current.  Its size meant that it wasn't of immediate practical use but with the advent of transistors and reliable batteries, the package grew smaller until a pacemaker was successfully implanted in the chest of a Swedish man in 1957.  They have since become a common medical tool.

The pacemaker, which launched John Hopps' acclaimed biomedical career, has helped millions of people lead normal, healthy lives.  Dr. Hopps received numerous honours for his research, including the Order of Canada, and he became the acknowledged Father of Biomedical Engineering in Canada. 

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