Washington State Magazine

Summer 2005

Summer 2005

In This Issue...


Book Season: Washington State love its literature :: In a report released last summer, the National Endowment for the Arts warned that literary reading has declined over the last 20 years. Scary stuff, huh? So we did our own informal survey of faculty, students, and alums. Their response? Read on!

Shock Physics: Power, Pressure, and People :: After the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear device, the U.S. determined that staying ahead in the arms race would require the best scientists and the best weapons. A new federal funding model emerged, channeling money into universities around the country for research and the training of the next generation of national scientists. By the late 1950s, WSU had started on shock-wave research.

Bear Bones: A Murder Mystery :: It must have been easy to drop the body into this part of Pullman, a section that sees so little traffic. The old county road was research land where hardly anyone but the groundskeepers ventured. But somebody had an ugly secret to hide.


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Birth, Death & Architecture :: Architecture professor Paul Hirzel wanted to push his students out of their mindsets. So he asked them to design a single building for both the beginning and the end of life: a funeral home/birthing center. }


:: FIELD NOTES:In Search of the Wild Chickpea

:: FOOD AND FORAGE:Asparagus

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: One-on-one: A chapter from Home Stand :: A chapter from Home Stand: Growing Up in Sports, a memoir by James McKean '68, '74 about growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the late '50s and early '60s. }


Cover: After 54 years of diligence, Nature Boy takes a break from the west face of Holland Library for some beach and reading time with Seattle's Hammering Man. Illustration by David Wheeler.

Because it required less energy, the defibrillator developed by Clint Cole and his research group could be lighter and smaller by a factor of five, making it portable—and ubiquitous.


Because it required less energy, the defibrillator developed by Clint Cole and his research group could be lighter and smaller by a factor of five, making it portable—and ubiquitous.Matt Hagen

This man might save your life--or teach your class

by | © Washington State University

Clint Cole ('87 B.S. Comp. Sci., '00 M.S. Elec. Engr.) vividly remembers the drama of trying to save lives as a paramedic in the 1980s.

He and his fellow paramedics typically responded to emergency calls by driving as fast as possible to their destination. If they arrived in fewer than seven minutes, they were doing well. Usually, though, they weren't fast enough.

Only about 10 of the 250 people he tried to save survived.

But as one the developers of the world's most popular portable defibrillator, Cole has since contributed to saving tens of thousands of lives.

More than six feet tall and a little uncomfortable at his desk, Cole looks more like a firefighter than the inventor, CEO, and college instructor he is now.

A native of Issaquah, he first came to Washington State University in 1979 to study computer science. He also became a campus fireman. Soon, he realized that academics weren't his priority. So for the next five years, he traveled the country working as a paramedic. He returned to WSU in 1985 and received his undergraduate degree in 1987.

Cole was working toward a master's degree in electrical engineering, when he heard his advisor talking with a Hewlett-Packard representative one day about a project to develop a new defibrillator. So he went to work for Hewlett-Packard, designing chips and circuit boards for the new machine. From there, he went to Seattle-based Physio-Control, joining a small team of research engineers who were looking for cheaper and easier ways to restart a stalled heart. But the company was under investigation by the federal government, and Cole and his fellow researchers were asked to focus their work on re-engineering manufacturing processes.

Meanwhile, Cole and the team found a way to make a portable defibrillator. Over several months, they told their bosses about it, insisting that they needed to start the work immediately. Finally, one member of the team threatened to quit and take the research group with him. In a matter of days, the entire group of five found themselves unemployed, and in 1992 they started a company called Heartstream.

Heartstream's innovation entailed the use of a bi-phasic wave form to deliver a jolt of electricity to patients, halving the energy requirements of earlier defibrillators. Because it required less energy, the machine could be lighter and smaller by a factor of five, and therefore portable. It hit the market in 1996, and soon after, the group sold Heartstream to Hewlett-Packard.

The number of machines sold has now exceeded 100,000-and they're everywhere. No longer is it necessary to wait the crucial seven minutes for paramedics to arrive. Anyone can grab a defibrillator and get to a patient almost instantly. According to a Seattle study, portable defibrillators save 2,000 to 4,000 lives in the U.S. annually.

Now married, Cole joined the WSU faculty in 1997.

Having left a cutting-edge engineering position, he realized that the curricula at WSU were not taking advantage of the latest digital design tools and methods.

In his entry-level digital design classes, for example, the circuit boards his students were using enabled them to design and build only the simplest circuits. And his advanced students were limited to designing circuits on paper without the opportunity to actually try them out.

So Cole designed a circuit board that students could use for a variety of projects, from simple circuits to complex microprocessors. Next, he designed an advanced version and built 400, 300 of which he sent to colleagues at other universities. They were well received, and demand started growing.

Soon he was getting calls from universities nationwide.

In 2000 Cole and a former student, Gene Apperson, founded Digilent, Inc. to manufacture and market the boards to schools and colleges nationwide. Since then, the pair has designed more than 50 products, which are in use by more than 400 universities worldwide. The company now has seven full-time employees, excluding Apperson and Cole, who don't receive a salary-and a new director, enabling Cole to focus on his teaching.

So what's Cole's next project? More time for "Version 3.0," he says. That's his affectionate name for his new son, Thomas, who was born to him and his wife, Fiona, in August 2004, joining brothers Jamie (4) and William (2).

Categories: Alumni, Health sciences, Engineering | Tags: Defibrillator

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