ATHENS, Ohio -- For his pioneering work on artificial organs, Willem J. Kolff was awarded the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize -- a $500,000 award recognizing outstanding achievement in engineering -- today (Feb. 18). The National Academy of Engineering presented the honor at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Fritz Russ is a 1942 graduate of Ohio University.
Kolff, 92, engineered the first dialysis machine out of sausage casings and part of an automobile water pump during World War II in Nazi-occupied Holland. He was driven by the experience of seeing a young man suffer through the agony of kidney failure as his body gradually lost the ability to filter out waste. At least 1.2 million people are alive today because of kidney dialysis.
He has since developed the heart-lung machine, the intra-aortic balloon pump heart assist device, the artificial eye and the artificial heart made famous by its first human recipient, Barney Clark. Kolff currently resides in Newton Square, Pa., and is fine-tuning his next invention, the wearable artificial lung.
Modeled after the Nobel Prize, the Russ Prize recognizes outstanding achievement in an engineering field that contributes to the advancement of science and engineering and improves the quality of life.
"Fritz had a vision when he established this prize, which is a capstone to his remarkable career in electrical engineering and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream," Ohio University President Robert Glidden said. "First, he wanted to bring recognition to the engineering profession for the important contribution it makes in improving our lives in so many ways. He also wanted Ohio University's Russ College of Engineering and Technology to be a leader in the world of engineering schools, and he felt that the Russ Prize would be one of the tools that could, and would, help us achieve that status."
The award was established in 1999 through a multimillion-dollar endowment to Ohio University from Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores, to honor the engineering profession and to attract more people to the field.
The first Russ Prize was presented in 2001 to Earl Bakken and Wilson Greatbatch, inventors of the first human heart pacemakers.
The Russes have dedicated a lifetime to engineering. Their support and commitment to the discipline helped construct modern facilities and programs at Ohio University and Wright State University. In 1994, the Ohio University's College of Engineering was re-named and dedicated to Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ.
During a distinguished engineering career, Fritz Russ helped lead breakthroughs in television technology, atomic weapons testing systems, engine controls, aircraft weaponry, space flight and medical technology.
Fritz Russ began his career at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and later worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In 1955, Fritz and Dolores Russ opened Systems Research Laboratory in Dayton. The company became one of the largest independent engineering and high-tech research firms of its kind and had grown to 1,000 employees when it was merged with Arvin Industries in 1987.
More information on the Russ Prize is available on the Web at www.ohio.edu/russprize .