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Purdue’s Leslie Geddes had distinguished teaching, research career

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Leslie Geddes, a Purdue University distinguished professor of biomedical engineering and recipient of the National Medal of Technology, died on Sunday (Oct. 25). He was 88.

Leslie Geddes, Purdue's Showalter Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering, and doctoral candidate Rebecca Roeder, test a device they invented that uses optical techniques to measure the vital signs of premature infants. (Purdue University file photo/Vincent Walter)

Leslie Geddes, Purdue's Showalter Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering, and doctoral candidate Rebecca Roeder, test a device they invented that uses optical techniques to measure the vital signs of premature infants. (Purdue University file photo/Vincent Walter)

The Showalter Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biomedical Engineering, Geddes created innovations ranging from burn treatments to miniature defibrillators and ligament repair to tiny blood pressure monitors for premature infants.

“Purdue is deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Geddes,” said Purdue President France A. Cordova. “While he is best known for his pioneering work that created the implantable medical device field, and has benefited millions of lives around the world, we also have lost a talented educator with a unique gift for inspiring his students to even greater heights.”

Born May 24, 1921, in Port Gordon, Scotland, his family moved to Canada, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1945 and a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1953 from McGill University in Montreal. He earned a doctorate in physiology in 1959 from the Baylor University College of Medicine, where Ð among other accomplishments Ð he developed physiological monitoring systems for early astronauts.

Geddes was recruited to Purdue in 1974 to help the university develop an organized biomedical engineering research center and create new technologies in the field, and his research and teaching laid the foundation for creation of a department of biomedical engineering in 1998.

He received the 2006 National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush in a White House ceremony in 2007. The award is the nation’s highest honor for technological innovation.

His most recent discovery was a new method for performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation that has advantages when compared to standard CPR.

“Dr. Geddes was an incredibly innovative thinker, prolific inventor and gracious individual,” said Leah H. Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. “His work has been a major factor behind Indiana’s emergence as a national leader in biomedical industries. He will be missed by all of us at Purdue and around the globe.”

In 2004 Geddes received Purdue’s Outstanding Commercialization Award to recognize his 30 patents, many now licensed by Indiana companies. Patents and technologies emerging from Geddes’ laboratory have generated more than $15 million in royalties for Purdue.

He officially retired in 1991, when he was named distinguished professor emeritus, but he continued his teaching and research.

“Les Geddes had an exceptional gift for motivating students and exciting people so that they excelled in the classroom and in the laboratory,” said George Wodicka, head of Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. “His tireless dedication, curiosity, and willingness to explore and test new ideas not only helped shape modern medicine and the medical device industry, but also is a legacy that will continue to inspire future generations of researchers, entrepreneurs and leaders.”

Among his accomplishments during a career that spanned more than 50 years are:

  • An energy efficient miniature defibrillator – a device that jolts the heart with electricity during a heart attack – that is small enough to implant inside a person.
  • A regenerative tissue graft made from a layer of pig intestines that has been used by surgeons to treat more than 200,000 patients so far.
  • A pacemaker that automatically increases a person’s heart rate during exercise.
  • A portable electrocardiograph that patients use to monitor the electrical patterns of their own hearts.
  • A miniature cuff that fits over the pinky-sized limbs of premature infants to measure blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, and the amount of oxygen in the blood.
  • A device that tells medical personnel whether they are properly administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The device could be crucial in saving lives because every minute of delay in resuscitation reduces the chance of survival by 10 percent.

One-third of the $15 million in royalties goes into the university’s venture fund, which supports other research to develop new technologies. Indiana-based companies that have licensed and commercialized Geddes’ inventions include Cook Biotech Inc., DePuy Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., and Hillenbrand Industries.

Geddes received many awards during his illustrious career, including the IEEE Edison Medal, the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Career Achievement Award, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation Laufman-Greatbatch Award, and the Nelson Innovation Award.

In 1962 he married Dr. LaNelle E. (Nerger) Geddes, and she survives. Also surviving is a son, James, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.

In lieu of a funeral service, the family has asked that written stories celebrating Geddes’ life be sent to the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, Attn: Jo Gelfand, 206 S. Martin Jischke Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2032. Memorial contributions can be made to the Dr. Leslie A. Geddes Scholarship Fund at the same address.

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