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Otto Schmitt, Biophysicist and Inventor Extraordinaire
Otto Schmitt
Biography of Otto Schmitt
Otto Schmitt Exhibit
Historic Docent

Otto Herbert Schmitt (1913-1998) is best remembered for his scientific contributions to biophysics and biomedical engineering, for the crucial role he played in establishing the field of biomedical engineering, and as a great inventor. In 1939 Otto joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota as an instructor in zoology and physics; he retired from there in 1983 as a professor of biophysics, bioengineering, and electrical engineering. Schmitt's electronic inventions include the cathode follower, the differential amplifier, the chopper-stabilized amplifier, and the Schmitt Trigger. He also is well known for advancing knowledge of the relationship between cardiac sources and the surface electrocardiogram.

Biography of Otto Schmitt
With the generous support of the Otto Schmitt Biomimetic Charitable Foundation, in 2001 The Bakken commissioned a 57-page biography of Schmitt authored by historian of science Jon M. Harkness, Ph.D. Dr. Harkness, who is the author of a forthcoming Oxford University Press book on human experimentation, has produced a well-documented and perceptive overview of Schmitt's fascinating life and work that incorporates a wide variety of documentary resources and interviews. Entitled A Lifetime of Connections: Otto Herbert Schmitt, 1913-1998, the biography is arranged chronologically according to the following sections: Introduction, Family, Early Years, Washington University, Postdoctoral Years, To Minnesota, War Work, Back to Minnesota, Beyond Campus Borders, Senior Statesman of Science and Engineering, The Final Years, and Conclusion. Each section is enriched with illustrations and with sidebars containing interesting stories, reminiscences, and excerpts from Schmitt's writings. 

A Lifetime of Connections: Otto Herbert Schmitt, 1913-1998 is available on the web. Readers are encouraged to submit comments, reminiscences, and other information about Otto Schmitt to Dr. David Rhees, Executive Director of The Bakken.  The biography is copyrighted 2001 by The Bakken; permission to reprint or distribute beyond personal "fair use" must be obtained from The Bakken. Please direct inquiries to Dr. David Rhees, Executive Director.

Otto Schmitt Exhibit 
On May 19, 2001 The Bakken debuted a small exhibit commemorating the life and work of Otto Schmitt as part of a special Family Science Saturday program on "The Electrifying Brain". The exhibit, which closed in August 2001, included experimental equipment from Schmitt's laboratory, including a 3-D electrocardiograph with torso model, and a nerve axon simulator that contains the first implementation of the Schmitt Trigger, a circuit basic to digital electronics. Another feature was a display case with memorabilia such as early patents, family photographs, early publications co-authored with his brother Francis O. Schmitt, and an early Polaroid camera given to Schmitt by Edwin Land, its inventor. The exhibited items were loaned by the Otto Schmitt Biomimetic Charitable Foundation, which also was a co-sponsor of the May 19 Family Science Saturday, though the auspices of Kenneth Young, President. 

"Otto Schmitt" DocentHistoric Docent
"Otto Schmitt" himself made a virtual appearance at the exhibit opening noted above in the guise of several students in our Historic Docent Program. They studied Schmitt's inventions, dressed up like Otto, and helped interpret the exhibits to visitors. 

For more information on Otto Schmitt, be sure to visit the website of the Otto Schmitt Biomimetic Charitable Foundation.

The Bakken
A Library and Museum of Electricity in Life

3537 Zenith Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55416-4623, USA

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© The Bakken Updated: April 6, 2007

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