DR. WILLIAM P. MURPHY, JR. ó 2003 WINNER
OF THE LEMELSON-MIT LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FOR INVENTION AND
“I have a natural bent for mechanical things,” said
William P. Murphy, Jr., M.D. “…There are so many things
that have to do with the body that are mechanical, that it's a fascination.
If you think about your body, it's a combination of mechanics, and
chemistry and electronics, etc., and it doesn't take long to get
interested in the body and how it works and why.”
Combining a passion for mechanical engineering with his expertise
in medicine, Murphy, the 2003 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime
Achievement Award, has revolutionized the biomedical industry. He
improved the lives of millions through his creations, which range
from disposable medical procedural trays and catheters to pacemakers
and artificial kidneys, most of which are the standard for the medical
Murphy was born in Boston, MA in 1923 to Pearl Harriett Adams
and William P. Murphy, Sr., both recognized figures in the Boston
medical community. His mother was the first licensed female dentist
in Massachusetts. His father, a consulting hematologist to several
hospitals, won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1934. The elder Murphy's
dedication to his patients—he would treat anyone who needed
care for just one dollar at his weekly clinic—sparked an early
fascination with medicine in Murphy. He was also influenced by his
mother and by many family friends, who were also practicing doctors.
“I think from the word go, I had an interest in medicine,”
Murphy said. His interest in medicine was rivaled only by a natural
proclivity for machinery. Since the age of 12, Murphy had a home
workshop where he spent many hours inventing. The earliest invention
to come out of his workshop was the region's first residential snow
blower, invented while he was in high school. After years of long
winters shoveling his father’s driveway, Murphy decided to
simplify the job and applied the technology used by the railroads
to create something smaller and more versatile. Murphy sold the
snow blower to a local lawnmower company for $1,500—what he
thought was “a killing” at the time.
Murphy cultivated his interests in both medicine and machinery
during his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where he
pursued a major in pre-medicine and a minor in architecture. He
continued his education at the University of Illinois School of
Medicine, where he received his medical degree in 1947. After graduation,
with encouragement from the president of MIT and its treasurer,
he enrolled at the university to pursue studies in engineering.
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Advancing Medicine through Invention
Murphy practiced medicine for a short time as an intern at St. Francis
Hospital in Honolulu and later, at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in
Boston (now Brigham & Women’s Hospital). While at St. Francis,
he developed his first medical invention—a projector for presenting
full-size x-rays to large audiences. Murphy and the other interns
were regularly required to show x-rays of their patients to doctors.
To simplify this task, Murphy created a projector that was capable
of showing a full-size x-ray on the screen and was easy to use—quite
an accomplishment at that time, since a prompt means for converting
x-rays to transparencies did not exist.
Murphy's next contribution to the medical world coincided with
the Korean War. The U.S. Army first came to Murphy while he was
working with a team of doctors in Boston on the first dialysis machines,
a program the Army supported because of concerns over exposure to
radiation from the Atomic bomb. An offshoot of this work was the
refinement of flexible bags to contain blood during transfusions,
which offered many advantages to previously used bottles. Developed
with Dr. Carl Walter, the bags preserve red blood cells and proteins
and ensure that the contents are not exposed to air. In 1952, Murphy
joined the U.S. Public Health Service as a blood transfusion consultant,
and went to Korea to perform transfusions on soldiers injured in
In 1957, he founded his first company, Medical Development Corporation.
The company, which focused on building research instruments, eventually
grew into Cordis Corporation, and is now a Johnson & Johnson
company. Cordis gave Murphy the resources to create a number of
today's standard medical devices, including the first physiologic
cardiac pacemaker; the widely used hollow fiber artificial kidney;
the first disposable medical procedural trays; the first motor-driven
angiographic injectors; and the first disposable catheters.
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Murphy's physiologic cardiac pacemaker—which is used to
treat heart block—senses what a patient's heart needs and
provides suitable stimulation so that the heart can function normally.
As more doctors began to use implantable pacemakers, it became clear
that there needed to be a way to alter the function of the pacemakers
while they were implanted. This led Murphy and his team to develop
pacemakers that could be programmed externally and, ultimately,
to develop the first DDD (dual chamber demand) pacemaker (1980s).
Murphy's motor-driven, high-pressure angiographic injectors are
used for injecting a small amount of radiographic contrast (a solution
containing iodine, which is easily visualized with x-ray images)
into select vessels in the body. The images that are produced, called
an angiogram, accurately reveal the extent and severity of blockages.
The disposable, torque-controlled vascular catheters—a related
invention, created with colleague Robert Stevens—allow for
easy entry into specific vessels, and are a sterile one-time use
According to Murphy, his greatest satisfaction has come from seeing
these technologies successfully applied to patients. For example,
Murphy's pacemaker was first used in a near comatose patient. The
day after the surgical implantation of his pacemaker, Murphy visited
the patient, who had shown significant improvement and was even
sitting up in bed, complaining about breakfast.
While at Cordis, Murphy found it difficult to obtain the appropriate
quantities and types of materials needed to complete his prototypes.
To overcome this, he started Small Parts, Inc., a Miami, FL-based
company that provides high quality materials and tools to engineers—in
any amount—to help facilitate completion of projects. The
company, well-known throughout the medical and engineering communities,
is one of several companies founded by Murphy and among 30 companies
that emerged from Cordis. In 1986, Murphy, together with colleague
John Sterner, purchased Hyperion, Inc. Also based in Miami, Hyperion
designs, manufactures and markets medical laboratory diagnostic
devices. Murphy is currently Hyperion’s chairman of the board
and chief executive officer.
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Fostering Invention and Innovation through Education
Though quite busy with his companies, Murphy has always been passionate
about education. He said, “People have innovation built into
them, but you must foster that innovation by pursuing an education.”
He has helped many individuals further their education and even paid
the tuition of many Cordis employees who chose to go back to school.
Realizing the need to foster an interest in science and technology
among children, Murphy helped friend Dean Kamen (2002 winner of
the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize) create 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. FIRST is now in its 12th year and Murphy
remains involved as a judge during competitions, as a member of
the FIRST Executive Advisory Board and as sponsor of the William
P. Murphy Vision Scholarship.
“I highly recommend William P. Murphy, M.D. for the Lemelson-MIT
Lifetime Achievement Award for his numerous accomplishments and
his inspiration to many hundreds of students both young and old,”
said friend and colleague Paul W. Mayer, M.D. in a letter of recommendation.
“ …[He] has been an inspiration to many who are now
leaders in the Biomedical field, whether they be inventors, engineers,
production specialists or clinicians.”
Murphy's contributions to the medical community, and to education,
are apparent in his countless successes, including membership in
several professional organizations, two of which he is a co-founder—the
American Society for Artificial Internal Organs and the American
Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. Murphy has received
several awards, such as the Distinguished Service Award from the
International Society for Artificial Organs (1981), the first Jay
Malina Award from the Beacon Council in Miami (2003) and others
from his alma mater, the University of Illinois (1987, 1994).
Today, at the age of 79, Murphy lives in Miami with his wife,
Bev. He says that his three major responsibilities are as CEO of
Hyperion, as CEO of Small Parts, and running his steam-powered tugboat—a
66-foot, 100-ton antique steam-powered tugboat that he and his wife
purchased nearly 20 years ago and keep in a small town north of
Amsterdam, Holland. Both were also helicopter pilots until recently
and logged 700 hours up and down the East Coast.
When asked about winning the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement
Award Murphy said, “When you begin your career, it’s
not to win an award. I don’t like to take—I like to
give. To be honored in this way is a truly emotional experience
and I am wonderfully honored to receive this award.”
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