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Ozone-based sterilization

Karlson In his career of over 60 years, Eskil Karlson has produced about 100 inventions. His most impressive efforts have converted a poison into a purifier: ozone-based sterilization systems.

Eskil L. Karlson was born in Johnkoping, Sweden in 1920, and emigrated to the US with his family when he was young. He felt somewhat alienated from his fellow students, but was thoroughly at home in the sciences: by sixth grade, he was studying college textbooks. Meanwhile, Karlson built small-scale civil engineering projects in his backyard. He won the first of his nearly 100 patents, for an acid-resistant glass bottle capping system, in his first year of high school.

Karlson majored in Physics at the University of Pittsburgh; but he also took many courses in Zoology and at Pitt's Medical School, looking for bio-technological problems that needed solving. Karlson stayed on at Pitt to earn an MS in Biophysics; he later won a doctorate from Occidental St. Louis University.

After World War II, Karlson joined a Nevada nuclear test site as Head of Applied Physics. There, he not only managed atom bomb tests, but helped in the design of a novel nuclear rocket propulsion system, the "Kiwi A." Karlson's other nuclear work included a nuclear submarine power testing model, the first prototype digital scalers, transistorized portable survey meters, and neutron body equivalent counters.

In 1960, Karlson founded a company for the research and development of radiation detection, monitoring, and control systems. In 1967, Karlson worked with ozone (O3) for the first time. This infamous, poisonous gas would become Karlson's preferred medium: in fact, in 1972 Karlson wrote an article entitled, "Ozone: Friend or Foe?" --- arguing, of course, for the former. In 1971, Karlson founded Life Support, Inc., an industrial design firm based in Erie, Pennsylvania whose leading products, such as Karlson's Continuous Ion Exchange System for pollution abatement and control (patented in 1976), would be ozone sterilizers.

Karlson had never abandoned his interest in medical technology. He invented a radioisotope device to detect thyroid tumors and the predecessor of the modern heart canula. In 1974, Karlson patented what is considered to be the first implantable artificial heart. That same year, he was invited to South Africa by Dr. Christiaan Barnard (the surgeon who in 1967 had performed the first human heart transplant).

While visiting Africa, Karlson was struck by the severe and widespread lack of water purification systems among the country's indigent population. Karlson knew that ozone introduced to water will kill all organic materials present and oxidize their remains to carbon dioxide, and that a few cities (Paris, for example) have used ozone in their municipal water systems for decades. Throughout the 1980s, Karlson invented and patented many improved fluid treatment systems that use ozone to purify water. In the mid-1990s, Karlson's work came full circle, when he began inventing and patenting ozone sterilization devices for the medical field. Much medical equipment is too sensitive for high-temperature or -pressure sterilization. Since the 1950s, the most common low-temperature sterilization agent has been ethylene oxide: this toxic, flammable, carcinogenic compound works slowly, evaporates even more slowly, and must be diluted with CFCs (which, ironically, threaten the earth's ozone layer).

Most recently, for the underprivileged of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia --- where the sick often die of dehydration for lack of pyrogen-free, clean water --- Karlson has invented a self-sterilizing, pyrogen-free water system. Today, at age 81, Eskil Karlson remains President of Life Support, Inc. But the scope of his inventions, and the benefits they bring, continues to expand.

[June 2001]

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