IEEE Honors External Pacemaker and ARPANET

Two tech breakthroughs are being honored with IEEE Milestones in Electrical and Computer Engineering

4 September 2009

Two tech breakthroughs that have changed our daily lives—one has saved and the other has connected millions of lives—are being honored with IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing. Ceremonies are scheduled for this month and October to recognize the two developments: the first external pacemaker and the ARPANET, which is being honored with a pair of IEEE Milestones.

PACEMAKER PIONEERS In 1949, Drs. William Bigelow and John Callaghan, working at the Banting Institute, in Toronto, were researching how extreme cold could slow the human heart rate, making it possible to conduct open-heart surgery. Although their work led to several successful open-heart operations, they couldn’t figure out how to restart the heart if it stopped during surgery.

That’s where John A. “Jack” Hopps, an electrical engineer and researcher at the National Research Council of Canada, comes in. Working with the two doctors and building on earlier research by such biomedical engineering pioneers as J.A. McWilliam and Albert Hyman, Hopps realized that a gentle electrical stimulus could start a stopped heart. He also found that applying such a stimulus could increase or decrease the heart rate, and that it would not harm the heart muscle.

The discovery led Hopps and his team at the National Research Council of Canada to develop the first external electronic pacemaker, in 1950. It was large—about 30 centimeters long and several cm wide and high—with pulses generated by vacuum tubes. Hopps, Bigelow, and Callaghan successfully used the pacemaker on a dog at the Banting Institute later that year, and that is the development being recognized with an IEEE Milestone.

During the next few years, thanks to the advent of the transistor and reliable batteries, other engineers improved on Hopps’s pacemaker and used it on humans. In 1957, a smaller, battery-powered pacemaker was developed by Earl Bakken, cofounder of Medtronic, a leading developer of medical technology, in Minneapolis. Bakken’s breakthrough was honored with an IEEE Milestone in 1999.

In 1958 engineer Rune Elmqvist and surgeon Åke Senning at the Karolinska University Hospital, in Solna, Sweden, developed a device using rechargeable batteries that could be implanted in a patient and charged externally with an induction coil. Although the device failed after three hours, many historians consider the patient, Arne Larsson, to be the first human to have a fully implanted pacemaker. Over the next two years a series of trials eventually resulted in a patient living nine months. In a series of clinical trials beginning on 15 April 1960, William C. Chardack, a surgeon at the Veterans Administration Hospital, in Buffalo, N.Y., assisted by Andrew Gage, implanted devices into a series of patients with heart problems caused by failures of their hearts’ electrical systems. The inventor of the device, engineer Wilson Greatbatch, had heard about Bakken’s work, and thought he could solve the battery problem. He eventually convinced Chardack to work with him. The patients, who would have died within weeks under any known treatment, lived for another 18 months to 30 years.

Hopps went on to found the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society and became known as the “father of biomedical engineering in Canada.” A ceremony honoring the IEEE Milestone is scheduled for 26 September at the University of Toronto. A plaque is to be placed at the front of the C.H. Best Institute, which is connected to the Banting Institute, with the following inscription:

In 1959, in Room 64 of the Banting Institute at the University of Toronto, Drs. Wilfred Bigelow and John Callaghan successfully paced the heart of a dog using an external electronic pacemaker-defibrillator having implanted electrodes. The device was developed by Dr. John Hopps at the National Research Council of Canada. This pioneering work led to the use of cardiac pacemakers in humans and helped establish the importance of electronic devices in medicine.

INTERNET PREDECESSOR The Internet has become such a major part of our everyday lives that it can sometimes be hard to remember—or imagine—life without it. But before the Internet, there was the ARPANET. Created by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, it was the world’s first operational packet-switching network, and the predecessor to today’s Internet. And it all started with just two letters—“lo”—sent from a computer at the University of California, Los Angeles, to one at the Stanford Research Institute on 29 October 1969.

The message, sent by UCLA student programmer Charley Kline and supervised by his computer science professor, Leonard Kleinrock, was supposed to spell out “login,” but the system crashed before the last three letters could be sent. The full word was sent to the SRI an hour later. IEEE is recognizing both the sending of the message from UCLA and the reception of the message at SRI with IEEE Milestones.

The idea for the Internet was given birth in 1963 by J.C.R. Licklider, director of the Behavioral Sciences and Command and Control programs at ARPA, in a series of memos to his colleagues discussing his concept for an Intergalactic Computer Network. Although Licklider left ARPA before work began, his idea had sparked Deputy Director Robert Taylor’s interest. Taylor saw the network as a way for ARPA researchers in different locations to connect with each other no matter what computer they were using, and to quickly make new software and research results widely available. Although other networks existed at the time, they were designed to link similar machines. ARPANET would allow machines to communicate with each other regardless of type.

In 1968, ARPA finished designing its plan for the network and sent a quote request to 140 potential bidders. Most said the idea was crazy; only 12 companies submitted bids. One year later, it was awarded to BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass.

The plan called for the network to be composed of small computers known as interface message processors (IMPs), which we now know as routers. The IMPs were installed at four sites—UCLA, SRI, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. The machines performed store-and-forward packet-switching functions and were linked to each other using modems connected to leased lines, initially running at 50 kilobits per second. BBN developed the entire system in nine months, including the hardware and the world’s first packet-switching software. The design was based on a theory of packet switching and demand access developed by Kleinrock. Licklider's work on computer networks in part grew out of Kleinrock’s work on queuing theory and Paul Baran's development of packet-switching.

One Milestone ceremony is scheduled for 16 September at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, Calif., and another will be held on 29 October—the 40th anniversary of the transmission—at SRI International, in Menlo Park, Calif. A plaque is to be mounted at SRI with the inscription:

SRI was one of the first two nodes, with the University of California at Los Angeles, on the ARPANET, the first digital global network based on packet switching and demand access. The first documented ARPANET connection was from UCLA to SRI on 29 October 1969 at 10:30 p.m. The ARPANET’s technology and deployment laid the foundation for the development of the Internet.

A third ceremony is also slated for 29 October at UCLA. The plaque is to be placed at the site of the transmission next to the IMP used to send that message in the School of Engineering and Applied Science building. The inscription reads:

On October 29, 1969, at 10:30 p.m., the first Internet message was sent from this site. It traveled in separate packets and demonstrated the power, efficiency, and promise of dynamic transmission and collaboration never before seen in data communication networks. The first message was the communication that led to the revolution we call the Internet.


IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More