Great Engineers & Scientists Blog

Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Randolph Lovelace: The Flying Doctor (Part 1)

Posted December 03, 2007 12:01 AM by Steve Melito

Dr. Randolph Lovelace II was a pioneering physician who served as Director of Space Medicine for Manned Space Flight at NASA. He also developed a high-altitude oxygen mask, led a section of surgery at the prestigious Mayo Clinic, screened male and female astronauts, and established the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His awards and honors included the Distinguished Flying Cross and induction into the International Space Hall of Fame.

William Randolph "Randy" Lovelace II was born on December 30, 1907 in Springfield, Missouri. In 1926, he enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, where he took flying lessons from the U.S. Naval Reserve. After completing his flight instruction at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in North Chicago, Illinois, Lovelace received his B.A. from Washington University in 1930. He then enrolled at Harvard Medical School, earning an M.D. in 1934. For the next several years, Lovelace completed his residency at New York's Bellevue Hospital, where he served as a research assistant to Dr. Reginald Fritz, a physician who had worked at the Mayo Clinic.

Mayo Fellow and Flight Surgeon

Randolph Lovelace followed Fritz's footsteps by moving to Minnesota in the summer of 1936. There, he entered the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine as a fellow in surgery. A year later, however, Lovelace took a two-month leave of absence to become a flight surgeon and first lieutenant with the Army School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas. After returning to Mayo, Lovelace continued his education and earned the J. William White Award, an honor which provided its recipient with a three-month tour of leading European surgical centers.

After returning to the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Lovelace became first assistant in surgery to Dr. Charles W. Mayo, son of the facility's founder. An aviation enthusiast, Dr. Mayo told Lovelace about how friends from Northwest Airlines were concerned about a growing number of plane crashes worldwide. Although Mayo blamed pilot failure, Lovelace posited that the problem was a product of improved airplanes which could fly at oxygen-scare high altitudes.

With his supervisor's encouragement, Lovelace then transferred to the Mayo Clinic's oxygen research department. There, Randy Lovelace worked with Drs. Walter M. Boothby and Arthur H. Bulbulian to develop a high-altitude oxygen mask. Years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson would describe this work as proof that "Dr. Lovelace is the kind of man who takes his work seriously". Added Johnson, "I can only hope that Presidents are not put to any such test."

The Daredevil Doctor

In order to test the oxygen mask that he helped develop, Randolph Lovelace joined the Army Air Corps, serving as head of the Aeromedical Laboratory (AML) at Wright Field. In what may have been the highest parachute jump ever attempted, Lovelace bailed out of a B-17 bomber over Ephrata, Washington at 40,200 feet. When Lovelace opened his parachute, however, the sudden deceleration of 8 Gs knocked him unconscious. He lost a glove, and the sub-zero (- 40º F) temperature caused his hand to become frostbitten. Fortunately, his oxygen mask helped keep him alive. Lovelace regained consciousness at a lower altitude, landing almost 24 minutes after bailing out. Later, his stratospheric experience would contribute to the development of automatic parachute-opening devices.

Named after its inventors, the "BLB oxygen mask" earned Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace a share of the Collier trophy, a national award for contributions to airplane safety; and the Distinguished Flying Cross, a military decoration for heroism while participating in an aerial flight. Lovelace also parlayed his research into a Master of Science (MS) dissertation at the University of Minnesota. Entitled "Oxygen, Aviation and Surgery: A New and Practical Apparatus for its Administration", the BLB oxygen mask helped Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots fight the "Battle of Britain" long before the United States entered World War II, when the mask was manufactured in mass quantities.

Editor's Note: Part 2 of this biography is now on CR4.



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