EXHIBITS: Delivering the Spark of Life

Science  27 Jun 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5628, pp. 2011
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5628.2011d

It looks like a hybrid between a sewing machine and a car's starter motor, but this contraption from the early 1930s is the forerunner of today's miniaturized pacemakers and implantable defibrillators. New York City cardiologist Albert Hyman coined the term “pacemaker” to describe his invention for jump-starting the heart and restoring its rhythm. Learn more about the history of these devices at the Web exhibit Electricity and the Heart, sponsored by the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology in Natick, Massachusetts.

A timeline highlights key findings since the mid-1800s, while features delve into advances such as Hyman's device, which delivered too little electricity to revive patients. Biographies—some with audio interviews—profile nearly 50 heart rhythm pioneers, such as Paul Zoll (1911-1999) of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He showed in 1952 that applying an electric current to the chest could spark the heart—surgery to expose the organ wasn't necessary. An historic film clip shows a patient living with a late-1950s machine. The device was the size of a microwave oven, and he couldn't stray beyond a 6-meter lifeline.

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