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Valentine’s Day, Invention of the EKG, and a Happy Heart

February 14, 2013

There’s a keystone in every great invention.

It’s one of the most popular holidays in human history, celebrated around the world. But behind all the chocolates, flowers, teddy bears, and corny romantic movies that form the bulk of Valentine’s Day, in the end it truly is a celebration of the human heart.

EKG chart and heartAnd being that it’s all about the heart, it’s anyone’s guess how Willem Einthoven, the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the EKG heart monitor, would have reacted to all the gourmet chocolate being devoured every February 14th. Probably not so well, since it was Einthoven’s robust athleticism that got him interested in studying the heart in the first place.

The young Einthoven competed in sporting events like rowing, fencing, and gymnastics. While performing a feat of acrobatics at a gymnasium, Einthoven tripped, fell, and broke his wrist. While recovering from his injury, Einthoven inquisitive mind was occupied by his extensive study of his injury and the wrist.

Einthoven’s fascination with the human body didn’t stop with his wrist. He went on to become fascinated with the organ that was most dramatically affected by athletic performance: namely, the heart. After his university training and while teaching as a professor of physiology at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, Einthoven resolved to invent a device that could precisely measure the electric currents produced by a human heartbeat.

In 1902, he invented the string galvanometer, a scientific breakthrough that eventually earned him his Nobel Prize. Using his new device called the electrocardiogram, or EKG, Einthoven produced a landmark paper several years later detailing his findings on various kinds of heart arrhythmia. As a result of Einthoven’s EKG, cardiologists and sports doctors since then have been able to monitor the heart using scientific accuracy.

While Willem Einthoven might have been a little taken aback by the sheer gluttony of a holiday dedicated to the affairs of the human heart, he’d be proud to see how far his pioneering work has aided medicine in particular, cardiology. And though the EKG cannot measure the matters of the human heart, the invention does show just why what is on the inside is what is most important. Keystone products like battery clips, contacts, and holders, LED spacers and lens caps, micro pins and jacks, and alligator clips can be found in EKG’s. And of course, a healthy and happy heart on the inside is the keystone for a well-lived life.