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William P. Murphy, Jr. Used his Engineering Skills and Medical Expertise to Improve Lives through Invention

Boston, MA, April 24, 2003—More than 60 years ago, Dr. William P. Murphy, Jr. envisioned engineering as a transforming force in the advancement of medicine. Translating this vision into practice, Murphy has made outstanding contributions in advancing medical technology and diagnostic instruments, for which he is being awarded the ninth annual Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for invention and innovation, now a $100,000 cash prize.

A pioneer in the application of engineering to medicine, Murphy, 79, stands as one of the founding fathers of the biomedical industry. The holder of 17 patents, his creations range from the first disposable medical procedural trays and blood bags, to the first physiologic pacemaker and hollow fiber artificial kidney. According to Murphy, "Medicine is a great big world of opportunity, with so much to be known and so much to be done. It's like a candy store."


Murphy has created a number of medical devices that have become the standard for the industry. Among his first patented inventions was the disposable medical procedural tray (1961), a revolutionary concept that has played a significant role in reducing cross contamination in invasive hospital procedures. Previously, medical trays were reused because they were costly, but this resulted in damage to instruments and incomplete sterilization of the trays, which had harmful effects on the patients. Murphy developed inexpensive trays that contain essential surgical equipment and drugs and are discarded after one use. His trays are found in most hospitals today.

In collaboration with Dr. Carl Walter, Murphy developed a second standard for the medical industry—plastic blood transfusion bags that prevent air exposure to preserve red blood cells and proteins. The transfusion bags were first used during the Korean War when the U.S. Army employed Murphy as a blood transfusion consultant. He was sent to the front lines, where he took the first units of blood in bags and conducted countless transfusions on wounded men.

A third invention that has since become an industry standard was introduced by Murphy in the 1960s. He and his colleagues developed the first motor-driven, high-pressure angiographic injectors, which are used for producing a visual angiogram that reveals the extent and severity of blockages in select vessels in the body. Several years later, he worked with Robert Stevens to introduce the first disposable vascular selective catheters, which have dramatically advanced selective coronary and cerebral angiography. These catheters are used in conjunction with angiographic injectors to produce a visual angiogram of a vein or artery.

"Dr. Murphy's dedication to the advancement of engineered medical devices and instruments has been legendary among invasive cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, nephrologists and neurosurgeons…" said Dr. Jeremy Ruskin in a letter of recommendation for the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award. "…He has inspired both physicians and engineers to reach for the highest standards in serving the patients. For these reasons, I believe Dr. William P. Murphy, Jr. is an ideal and highly deserving candidate for the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award."

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Murphy developed an interest in medicine at a young age, surrounded by renowned medical practitioners, including his mother—a dentist—and his father—winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize in medicine. His passion for medicine rivaled an affinity for quality machinery, a combination that led to many successful medical devices.

After practicing medicine for a short time, Murphy founded his first company, Medical Development Corporation, in 1957 in his garage. In 1959, the company evolved into Cordis Corporation, which focused on developing medical instrumentation. At Cordis, Murphy and his engineering staff invented the first physiologic cardiac pacemaker (1970s) that operated by responding to the heart's rhythms rather than at a fixed rate. This set the stage for Cordis to become a successful pacemaker manufacturer, establishing the first non-invasively programmable pacers (1971) and DDD (dual chamber demand) pacers (1980).

At Cordis, Murphy pursued dialysis research, which he had first begun as a member of the first active dialysis team working at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. Murphy was inspired to adapt the hollow fibers being produced by Dow Corporation to create a proficient artificial kidney, since existing devices were inefficient and clumsy to use. With his associates, he created integral hollow fiber kidneys (1980) that mimic the natural kidney and allow for an increased surface to volume ratio, which significantly improved dialysis efficiency. His system is utilized extensively throughout the world.

In addition to Cordis, Murphy started Small Parts, Inc. in 1963, a Miami-based company that quickly supplies small and large quantities of high quality materials and tools to engineers in a range of industries. In 1986, Murphy started Hyperion, Inc.—also based in Miami—which designs, manufactures and markets automated immunoassay systems and reagents.

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As a strong advocate of education, Murphy encourages his peers and employees to continuously expand their knowledge. In order to provide an interest in engineering education to young people, he and friend Dean Kamen (2002 winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize) founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit organization that aims to inspire an appreciation of science, technology and engineering in young people.

"Dr. Murphy is fully deserving of the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award not only for his achievements in medical technology, but also for his commitment to education," said Merton Flemings, Director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. "He exemplifies the mission of our Program by helping to promote invention and innovation among young people."

Murphy graduated from Harvard University (1946) with a major in pre-medicine and a minor in architecture. He received his M.D. from the University of Illinois School of Medicine and also studied mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He helped to establish several professional organizations, and has co-authored nearly 30 medical publications. Often recognized for his many achievements, he has received countless awards including the Distinguished Service Award of the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology (1985), American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering Founding Fellow (1993) and the FIRST Founder's Award (2000).

Other recipients of the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award include such distinguished inventors as Ruth Rogan Benerito, who invented easy-care cotton; Raymond Damadian, who invented the first Magnetic Resonance (MR) Scanning Machine; Al Gross, wireless pioneer who invented the walkie-talkie and pager; and Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of Kevlar® (used in a variety of products from bullet-proof vests to airplanes).

Murphy will be formally presented with the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award the evening of Thursday, April 24, 2003 at a special invitation-only ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.

Click here for more information on Dr. Murphy.


Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program's mission is to raise the stature of inventors and innovators and to foster invention and innovation among young people. It accomplishes this by celebrating inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards, including the world's largest for invention—the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by The Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.


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