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Otto Schmitt

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Biography

Otto Herbert Schmitt was a very influential biomedical engineer and biophysicist who coined the term ‘biomimetics’.

Schmitt was a talented inventor right from his high school years. He helped his older brother with electrical instruments and laboratory work in the Zoology Department at Washington University. The young boy’s work impressed several faculty members and he was admitted into the university before he had even completed High School. In college he displayed great interest and skill in physics, electronics and mathematics and was into research from his undergraduate years. Schmitt made his first publication in his first year of college and earned his Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Physics in 1934. He started graduate research at the same university and earned his PhD with Majors in Physics and Zoology and a Minor in Mathematics. After that he did a Post-doc from University College in London.

In London, Schmitt worked on a novel circuitry, which made such an impact on electronics that it is referred to as the ‘Schmitt Trigger’. In 1939, Schmitt got a dual appointment at the University of Minnesota in the Departments of Zoology and Physics. With the outbreak of the World War II, Schmitt became an official investigator for the National Defense Research Committee, which provided funding for top secret military science research. However, after the war, Schmitt returned to academia, doing research and advising graduate students at the University of Minnesota, where he became a full professor and professor emeritus.

Schmitt is famous for his research on nerve impulse formation and propagation. He also made many influential applications in the biomedical field, such as applying his three dimensional oscilloscope display to electrocardiographs. He helped to found many professional societies for biophysics, like the Biomedical Engineering Society, the Biophysical Society, the Association for Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, the International Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering and the International Union of Pure and Applied Biophysics. He also coined the term ‘biomimetics’ – one of the largest areas of study within biomedical engineering.