When you think of a mad scientist, who do you think of?
How about Dr. Jekyll? Or Doc Brown?
Maybe a few characters from comic books… okay, maybe MORE than a few from comic books…
Chances are, though, there’s one name that came to mind first. Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley’s madman with a love for the electric, has become the ultimate warning of a science experiment gone wrong.
But this tale of terror has done more than shock audiences.
It may also have been the spark of inspiration for a medical device keeping four and a half million people on this planet alive.
Let’s find out how the science fiction inspired science reality.
So what’s the connection between this monster and a pacemaker? To explain that, we have to go back to the 1700, when electricity was a subject of fascination, and scientists were testing its effects on human bodies.
Luigi Galvani discovered in the 1780’s that electric current caused a dead frog’s leg to twitch.
In 1803, Galvani’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini conducted experiments on the corpses of criminals, in which a jolt of electricity to the head seemed to cause the body to “reanimate.”
Mary Shelley heard about these experiments through her circle of writer and scientist friends, influencing her novel Frankenstein, about a scientist obsessed with the secret of life.
Dr. Victor Frankenstein assembles body parts and uses a jolt of electricity to bring them to life.
Frankenstein published in 1818, and is considered both gothic horror and early science fiction.
The movie version starring Boris Karloff premiered in 1931, and it inspired a young Earl Bakken to work with both electricity and medicine.
He would later say, “What intrigued me the most, as I sat through the movie again and again, was the creative spark of Dr. Frankenstein’s electricity.”
In 1957, Bakken developed the first wearable, battery-powered cardiac pacemaker, a device that uses electric pulses to correct abnormal heart beats.
His company Medtronic, would go on to create many different kinds of pacemakers, and they remain one of the most commonly used pacemakers today.
And it all started with a little spark of creativity from a boy watching his favorite sci-fi.