David Carlson

David Carlson
David Carlson


Major and graduation year: Electrical Engineering: MS ’61; PhD ’64

Life-saving innovations: During his time at Iowa State University as a graduate student and later as a faculty member, alumnus David L. Carlson helped to create one of the first infant respiratory augmentors in the world. At the time, there was only one respiratory augmentor on the market, and it was not very effective. Carlson’s invention was the first of its kind capable of keeping premature babies weighing only 1 to 2 pounds alive, far exceeding the capabilities of augmentors already on the market.

Getting recognized: Carlson successfully tested the augmentor on a number of premature babies at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames, Iowa, and then briefly moved to New York City to further test the device on babies in the city’s neonatal intensive care unit at the children’s hospital. Carlson then patented the technology, and before his patent expired in the mid-1980s, the invention earned Iowa State nearly $500,000. In 1984, Carlson’s invention earned him the Iowa Patent Law Association’s Inventor of the Year Award, as well as a prestigious Faculty Citation award from the Iowa State University Alumni Association.

Continued strives: Even with the success of his infant respirator augmentor, Carlson didn’t stop there—or even in retirement—with developing new biomedical inventions. After he created the augmentor, he worked to develop ultrasound technology for detected pregnancy in livestock, particularly in pigs. He became involved with RenCo Corporation in Minneapolis, and they started manufacturing his product.

A rewarding career: Although Carlson retired over 15 years ago, he has continued working with RenCo and travels around the world demonstrating his livestock ultrasound technology product, which has been in use for over 35 years. Even with all of his research accomplishments—including earning eight patents—Carlson says the biggest joy of his career as a faculty member at Iowa State was working with undergraduate students.