Robert B. Northrop was born in White Plains, NY, in 1935. After graduating from Staples High School in Westport, CT, he majored in electrical engineering at MIT, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1956. At the University of Connecticut (UCONN), he received a master's degree in control engineering in 1958. As the result of long-standing interest in physiology, he entered a Ph.D. program at UCONN in physiology, doing research on the neuromuscular physiology of catch muscles. He received his Ph.D. in 1964.
In 1963, he rejoined the UCONN Electrical Engineering Department as a Lecturer, and was hired as an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering in 1964. In collaboration with his Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Edward G. Boettiger, he secured a 5-year training grant in 1965 from NIGMS (NIH), and started one of the first interdisciplinary biomedical engineering graduate training programs in New England. UCONN awards M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in this field of study.
Throughout his career, Dr. Northrop's areas of research have been broad and interdisciplinary and have been centered around biomedical engineering. He has done sponsored research on the neurophysiology of insect vision and theoretical models for visual neural signal processing. He also did sponsored research on electrofishing and developed, in collaboration with Northeast Utilities, effective working systems for fish guidance and control in hydroelectric plant waterways using underwater electric fields.
Still another area of sponsored research has been in the design and simulation of nonlinear, adaptive digital controllers to regulate in vivo drug concentrations or physiological parameters, such as pain, blood pressure, or blood glucose in diabetics. An outgrowth of this research led to his development of mathematical models for the dynamics of the human immune system, which have been used to investigate theoretical therapies for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and HIV infection.
Biomedical instrumentation has also been an active research area. An NIH grant supported studies on the use of the ocular pulse to detect obstructions in the carotid arteries. Minute pulsations of the cornea from arterial circulation in the eyeball were sensed using a no-touch ultrasound technique. Ocular pulse waveforms were shown to be related to cerebral blood flow in rabbits and humans.
Most recently, he has addressed the problem of noninvasive blood glucose measurement for diabetics. Starting with a Phase I SBIR grant, Dr. Northrop has been developing a means of estimating blood glucose by reflecting a beam of polarized light off the front surface of the lens of the eye, and measuring the very small optical rotation resulting from glucose in the aqueous humor, which in turn is proportional to blood glucose. As an offshoot of techniques developed in micropolarimetry, he developed a sample chamber for glucose measurement in biotechnology applications. Another approach being developed will use percutaneous, long-wave infrared light in a nondispersive spectrometer to measure blood glucose noninvasively.
He has written four textbooks: one on analog electronic circuits, and others on instrumentation and measurements, physiological control systems, and neural modeling.
Dr. Northrop was a member of the Electrical and Systems Engineering faculty at UCONN until his retirement in June 1997. Throughout this time, he was program director of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program. As Emeritus Professor, he now teaches graduate courses in biomedical engineering, writes texts, sails, and travels. He lives in Chaplin, CT, with his wife and two cats.
Was this article helpful?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the way your body uses food. Normally, your body converts sugars, starches and other foods into a form of sugar called glucose. Your body uses glucose for fuel. The cells receive the glucose through the bloodstream. They then use insulin a hormone made by the pancreas to absorb the glucose, convert it into energy, and either use it or store it for later use. Learn more...