UW Today

This is an archived article.

April 14, 1999

UW Scientific Instruments Division celebrates its 50th anniversary

The Scientific Instruments Division of the University of Washington will celebrate 50 years of achievement with an anniversary celebration and open house from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 29, in the lobby of the UW Health Sciences Center, 1959 N.E. Pacific. The public is welcome to attend.

Among the division’s outstanding accomplishments are the design and construction of the kidney dialysis machine, developed in conjuction with the UW’s Dr. Belding H. Scribner, and design and construction of bone marrow transplant equipment, developed in conjunction with transplant pioneer Dr. E. Donnall Thomas of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The open house will include displays of instruments, including an early artificial kidney. A timeline will show accomplishments of the division over the years.

The division was created in 1949 as the Medical Instrument Facility. Its machine shop was instrumental in developing or improving a number of scientific instruments in wide use around the world, including the heart-lung machine, aortic heart valves, the artificial kidney, and bone marrow transplant equipment. In 1952, the division, working with UW physician Dr. Robert Bruce, developed the first treadmill for humans, allowing the patient to run in place while heart function is evaluated under exercise conditions.

Electronic services were added in 1961, to enhance the division’s developmental capabilities and to repair electronics-based equipment, which was proliferating both in research labs and in clinical use. Optical services were added in 1972, to assist in the maintenance of microscopes, including complex multi-headed and surgical scopes. In 1999, the instrumentation and methods being developed often focus on the cellular and the molecular level.

“We take ideas and turn them into instrumentation,” said manager Liz Mulligan, who has been with the division for 29 years. “This is where solutions to technical problems are devised.”

Selected achievements:


1949 Division begins as Medical Instruments Facility

1952 Treadmills developed for patient use

1955 Artificial heart valve development begins

1956 Open heart surgery with prototype heart-lung machine

1958 Development of artificial kidney begins

1960 Cannulae developed to make ongoing hemodialysis possible

1961 Electronics service starts

1962 Ultrasound development begins

1963 Glassblowing facility opened

1964 Bone marrow transplant equipment developed

1967 Protein sequenator built

1968 Peritoneal dialysis machine and cannulae developed

1969 Preventive maintenance on patient care equipment begins

1970 “Mechanical Mom” rocking incubator developed

1972 Optical services added

1976 Bone marrow transplant equipment registered with the FDA

1977 Name changed to Scientific Instruments Division

1984 Computerized peritoneal dialysis machine designed and built

1990 Bone marrow transplant equipment donated to Soviet Union for Chernobyl victims

1993 Computer-controlled milling machine installed

1995 New shop completed for machine and optical units

1999 50 years of service