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A Conversation with Adam Heller.

  • Author(s): Heller, Adam
  • Cairns, Elton J
  • et al.

Adam Heller, Ernest Cockrell Sr. Chair in Engineering Emeritus of the John J. McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, recalls his childhood in the Holocaust and his contributions to science and technology that earned him the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation in a conversation with Elton J. Cairns, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Heller, born in 1933, describes the enslavement of his father by Hungarians in 1942; the confiscation of his family's home, business, and all its belongings in 1944; and his incarceration in a brick factory with 18,000 Jews who were shipped by the Hungarians to be gassed by Germans in Auschwitz. Dr. Heller and his immediate family survived the Holocaust and arrived in Israel in 1945. He studied under Ernst David Bergmann at the Hebrew University, and then worked at Bell Laboratories and GTE Laboratories, where he headed Bell Lab's Electronic Materials Research Department. At GTE Laboratories, he built in 1966 the first neodymium liquid lasers and in 1973 with Jim Auborn conceived and engineered the lithium thionyl chloride battery, one of the first to be manufactured lithium batteries, which is still in use. After joining the faculty of engineering of The University of Texas at Austin, he cofounded with his son Ephraim Heller TheraSense, now a major part of Abbott Diabetes Care, which produced a microcoulometer that made the monitoring of glucose painless by accurately measuring the blood glucose concentration in 300 nL of blood. He also describes the electrical wiring of enzymes, the basis for Abbott's state-of-the-art continuous glucose monitoring system. He discusses his perspective of reducing the risk of catastrophic global warming in a wealth-accumulating, more-energy-consuming world and provides advice for students entering careers in science or engineering.

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