The Innovator - Mir A. Imran

By Angela Delli Santi, Rutgers magazine

Rutgers honors the six new members of the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni for their exemplary careers, personal achievements, and contributions to society out of these six, TWO are Alums of the School of Engineering, our second awardee is:

As a kid, none of his playthings survived a day. Whenever Mir A. Imran was given a new mechanical or windup toy, he'd dismantle it, better at demolition than reasembly. Even as a preschooler in 1960s India, Imran displayed an insatiable curiosity about how things work. His frustrated mother eventually began buying toys in twos: one for Imran to play with and one to take apart.

Today, Imran (ENG'77) is the deep thinker and creative force behind hundreds of medical devices and inventions. They include such life-extending products as the first federally approved implantable cardiac defibrillator, which returns a racing heart to a normal rhythmic pace. He also invented the ablation catheter for cardiac arrhythmias, which emits an energy burst that destroys areas of muscle causing heart rhythm disturbances. About two million patients around the world owe their lives to Imran's implanted defibrillator and countless more to his ablation catheter.

Imran stopped counting the number of patents he holds at around 200; notices from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to his Los Altos Hills, California, home have become about as usual as the utility bill. In most households, getting a patent issue would be a big deal. Imran got two in January, but his wife and five kids didn't notice.

"It's become routine," he laments.

Imran's passion for innovation and his entrepreneurial drive for commercial success remain strong. The difference between closeted inventors and successful ones, he says, is "the drive to see your ideas come to life. It takes years of focus and attention. Inventions don't become real until you commercialize them. Only when people become willing to use them and pay for them is an invention worth anything."

In a course that he teaches at Stanford University on this very subject, Imran warns students not to fear failure. To punctuate the point, he lectures on his own creative failures, including one in which he became so enamoured of nickel titanium alloy that he spent years developing a more pliable cardiac guide wire that used the new material. The trouble was that cardiologists liked the standard-issue stainless-steel version just fine. "I'm never driven by technology now," says Imran, who went to medical school but got bored and turned back to engineering.

"The secret to innovation is very, very simple: spend time with the problem, unravel it, understand it, and figure out what you don't understand. Look at it from different perspectives. The solution is usually embedded in its understanding."