Billem Einthoven

Billem Einthoven

Dutch physician, physiologist, inventor of the first working device for measuring the electrical activity of the heart, Nobel Prize laureate.
Date of Birth: 21.05.1860
Country: Netherlands

  1. Biography of Willem Einthoven
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Scientific Contributions
  4. Nobel Prize and Legacy

Biography of Willem Einthoven

Willem Einthoven was a Dutch physician, physiologist, and inventor of the first functional device for measuring the electrical activity of the heart. He was also a Nobel Prize laureate. Today, the electrocardiogram (ECG) is a fundamental step in any medical examination. However, just over a hundred years ago, the only way to measure the electrical activity of the heart was by opening the patient's chest. We owe the non-invasive analysis of the electrical impulses generated by the heart's activity to the Dutch physician, Willem Einthoven.

Early Life and Education

Einthoven was born in Semarang, Java. His father, who was also a physician, passed away when Einthoven was still a child. In 1870, his mother and siblings returned to the Netherlands and settled in Utrecht. In 1885, Einthoven obtained his degree from the University of Utrecht, and in 1886, he became a professor at the University of Leiden. Einthoven had always aspired to follow in his father's footsteps, and to some extent, he fulfilled this dream, albeit not exactly as he had initially planned.

Scientific Contributions

Einthoven initially studied ophthalmology, but after sustaining a sports injury, he became fascinated with the principles of hand and shoulder joint movement. Later, he shifted his focus to the cardiac muscle. Prior to his work, scientists were aware that heartbeats generated electrical impulses, but the instruments of the time did not allow for precise measurements without direct contact with the exposed heart.

In 1901, Einthoven began developing the string galvanometer. This device consisted of a piece of wire suspended between strong electromagnets. When current passed through the wire, it moved, and the resulting shadow left a visible trace on photosensitive paper wrapped around a moving drum. The first model weighed around 270 kilograms, required the assistance of five people, and had a water cooling system for maintenance. However, even the prototype showed that the overall idea deserved further consideration. For the first time, the electrical activity of the heart could be analyzed despite interference from flesh and bones.

As the invention evolved and improved, it became more compact. By 1911, a table-sized model existed, which allowed cardiologist Thomas Lewis to analyze and describe various types of arrhythmias. Over the next three years, approximately 35 electrocardiographs were produced and sold. The progress did not stop there. Mobile devices were later created, which could be brought to patients' bedsides. By 1935, the device had slimmed down to 11 kilograms. By that time, most specialists had recognized Einthoven's invention and its usefulness in studying the cardiac activity of patients.

Ultimately, Einthoven's development paved the way for modern electrocardiogram recording devices. He also contributed to the preservation of the terminology he introduced, such as the names for various waveforms. Additionally, the "Einthoven triangle" was named in honor of the scientist, representing a combination of three points for signal derivation from the body. After his work on the string galvanometer, Einthoven shifted his focus to the study of acoustics and the sounds of heartbeats.

Nobel Prize and Legacy

In 1924, Willem Einthoven was awarded the Nobel Prize for creating the first functional scheme for obtaining an electrocardiogram. He passed away in Leiden on September 29, 1927, at the age of 67.