Perry L. Blackshear, Jr.:
Transcript of Interview Excerpt
Perry L. Blackshear, Jr., interviewed by Kirk Jeffrey on August 21, 2000 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“1957. Then I was still interested in measurements and flames. My first graduate student, Mike Fingerson, had as his research subject the development of a temperature sensor that could work in very high-temperature environments, environments much higher than any solid could withstand. The rationale of the device was to measure the heat flux rate from the environment to a surface of known temperature, but then we would internally cool the surface of known temperature. So it could withstand very high electrically heated plasmas.
He developed the device and was giving a paper at which a member of the physiology department attended. He came up to Mike after the paper was presented and said, “That’s a pretty rugged device. Do you think it could hold up in blood flow?” And we were certain that it could.
There was another student in the lab who developed a little probe that would go across an artery carrying this probe, and you could detail the velocity at different points in a dog’s aorta. Mike and several other members of the lab went to the Engineers in Biology and Medicine Symposium, I think it was 1959 or 1960, to present the paper. And they came back saying, “Oh, artificial hearts are being worked on by surgeons who know absolutely nothing about engineering. Now, if you can tell us how much turbulence and how much shear stress and how much pressure oscillation the red cells can withstand, we could just wipe everybody’s clock on artificial heart development.” The reason they asked me is that my wife is a physician, and all medical questions were referred to her through me. So I started life as a bioengineering expert as a channel of communication between my students and my wife. [Laughter]
She, after looking into the literature, came to the wise conclusion that this is the kind of question that simply has not been asked before and only an engineer would ask it, and it was her opinion that only the engineer could answer it.”