Tuesday, April 17, 2018

From Inner Space to Outer Space

Artificial heart modelWhen he was a child, Arthur R. Kantrowitz and his younger brother Adrian liked to build things.  Using old radio parts, they constructed an electrocardiograph on the table in their Bronx kitchen in the 1920s. As the brothers grew up their paths diverged. Adrian became a physician and heart surgeon, while Arthur turned to physics and engineering. However, throughout the 1950s and 1960s they continued to collaborate on mechanical inventions that would prolong the life of patients with heart failure, such as the inter-aortic balloon pump (1967) and the left ventricular assist device (1972).

Arthur’s real passion, however, was fluid mechanics, particular the behavior of super-hot gases in confined spaces, which included experiments in nuclear fusion, laser propulsion, magnetohydrodynamics, and supersonic high intensity molecular beams. His invention of the nose cone (“Means for and method of controlling attitude of re-entry vehicle”) for rockets and space vehicles was instrumental in getting both man and machine safely back to earth. Altogether, Kantrowitz held 21 patents including a wide-angle isotope separator, a space vehicle, an axial-flow compressor, and a high-powered laser.

1937 patent diagram for Castering WheelsOne of his earliest inventions, however, was more tangible. In 1937, Kantrowitz submitted a patent request related to caster wheels, in particular the behavior of shimmy in said wheels. He proposed that by permitting the wheel only to move a limited distance “laterally relative to the axis of the castering spindle…the tire deflection is partially neutralized continually and its interaction with the angular motion can be reduced enough to prevent shimmy."  Kantrowitz felt that this application could be of significant importance when it came to a “castering wheel for aircraft and other vehicles.” The patent was approved in September 1939.

Kantrowitz was a scientists his entire life. He was a chief physicist at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics from 1935-1946, after which he taught physics and engineering at Cornell University until 1956, when he founded the Avco-Everett Laboratory in Everett, Massachusetts, which he ran from 1956-1978. In 1978, after his retirement from Avco, he joined the faculty of the Thayer School of Engineering as a part time professor and senior lecturer.

Calculations on Health Care Costs
We recently re-processed Arthur Kantrowitz's papers and looking through them, it is apparent that he never stopped working to improve the life around him. That is probably why, in 1992, he took a look at health care costs, trying to solve a problem that has yet to be solved. Found in a folder entitled “Unfinished calculations,” it seems that he ran out of time. Arthur Kantrowitz died at the age of 95 in 2008, six days after his brother.

You can ask for MS-1097 to see more. As soon as the finding aid is ready, we will post a link here.