James Greenleaf Brings Purdue Engineering to the Mayo Clinic


I always was interested in engineering. I built my own little engineering lab in the basement, and amateur radio. I just want to be an engineer and work in electrical, and have meters and switches! I started out in Engineering Science to get my masters, and the first research project I did was on ballistocardiogram, which means you take a patient and put them on a bed with accelerometers, and as their heart beats, you measure what direction the bed is driven in. Then I wrote some programs to calculate acceleration, and so on, and also the force produced by the heart to produce those motions. I was always interested in a mixture between medicine and engineering. Mayo Clinic is the largest nonprofit healthcare organization. We have probably 1800 physicians onsite. My PhD was at Mayo, from Purdue. I did a summer project at Mayo with a world-famous physiologist whose name was Earl Wood, and I decided I wanted to do my PhD with him. That was on pulmonary blood flow under acceleration on a big centrifuge. Went back to Mayo, and haven’t left! It’s a very good place to work because there’s virtually no barriers between departments. When we need to work with a clinician, we just go talk to them. Physicians are very interested in research, so it’s great. They may come to us as engineers and ask if we can help them. And we start to come to some physics appropriate solution. So it’s a matter of bringing to the conversation two-sided respect. I am still working full-time and I’m 75 years old. So that means I must like it a lot! Now to find a vocation like that is extremely difficult, and biomedical engineering does that.

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