Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
William P. Murphy was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1923. His parents were both medical professionals — his mother was the first licensed female dentist in Massachusetts and his father, William Parry Murphy was a hematologist who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1934.
As a child, Murphy was surrounded by people involved in medicine. Meanwhile, he was intrigued with invention and machinery. He had a workshop at his home where he tinkered away with spare parts and created new types of machines. His first successful invention came in high school, when he created the region's first residential snow blower. He sold the device to a local lawnmower company for $1,500.
Murphy pursued medicine in college, studying at Harvard University and later at the University
of Illinois School of Medicine. He received his medical degree from the latter in 1947. But he continued to foster an interest in engineering, and soon after he received his MD he enrolled at MIT to pursue studies in this field. Later he would combine his interests in these two areas in ways that would transform the medical world. Over the course of his career he would acquire 17 patents, form several companies, and develop a series of medical devices that for the first time bridged the gap between technology and the medical field.
Murphy practiced medicine at St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii and then at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston (now Brigham & Womenís Hospital). At St. Francis he introduced the world to his first medical invention, a projector for presenting full-size x-rays to large audiences. The U.S. Army came to Murphy during the Korean War in 1952 for his help in creating the first dialysis machines, a program begun in response to fears that troops would become exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb. While working on this project with colleague Dr. Carl Walter, Murphy helped to refine blood bags used during transfusions ‚ his bags preserved red blood cells and proteins and ensured that the contents are not exposed to air.
In 1957, he founded his first company, Medical Development Corporation, which would later become the Cordis Corporation. This company provided Murphy the means to work with other engineers to create such devices as the first motor-driven angiographic injectors, which allow images known as angiograms to be produced, accurately revealing the extent and severity of blockages; the first disposable catheters; the hollow fiber artificial kidney; and the first disposable medical procedural trays.
Later at Cordis, Murphy and his team created the first physiologic cardiac pacemaker. The device, used to treat heart blockage, operated by responding to the heart's rhythms rather than at a fixed rate. Murphy would go on to develop externally programmable pacemakers (1971), and eventually dual chamber demand, or DDD pacemakers (1980). Cordis was purchased by Johnson & Johnson in 1996.
Meanwhile, Murphy started Small Parts, Inc. in 1963, a supplier
of tools and materials to engineers in a variety of industries.
In 1986, Murphy, together with colleague John Sterner, purchased
Hyperion, Inc., a Miami-based maker of medical laboratory
diagnostic devices and served as CEO there until 2003.
Murphy continues to be active in furthering science education. He helped friend Dean Kamen create FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire interest in science, technology and engineering in young people. He is a co-founder of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and has received numerous awards such as the Distinguished Service Award from the International Society for Artificial Organs in 1981, the first Jay Malina Award from the Beacon Council in Miami in 2003 and the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award, also in 2003.
Murphy lives in Miami as of this writing (July 2003) with
his wife. He continues to serve as CEO of Small Parts. He
also owns and regularly runs a 66-foot antique steam-powered