From Germany to Britton

A Personal View of Experiences in Almost 50 Years of Measuring Oxygen
  • Kenneth Sugioka
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 388)


From the title of this discussion, you can see that I consider Germany the cradle of oxygen measurement, even though I was not there when in 1897 Danneel1 at the University of Gottingen devised the first platinum oxygen electrode. However, I did work in Gottingen (1962-1963) with Kurt Kramer. My acquaintanceship with Kramer began in 1946 while I was a medical student. James Elam, an investigator at Washington University, and I, with advice from Earl Wood, Professor of Physiology at the Mayo Clinic, were trying to develop an improved ear oximeter. Efforts to develop a good war time oximeter were triggered by the fact that the Luftwaffe was equipped with oximeters long before the allied air forces, and with a hypoxia warning device, their pilots were able to fly safely at higher altitudes. One of the first things we did was to obtain, with some difficulty, a reprint of the original paper on oximetry by Kramer and Matthes in Zeitschrift Fur Biologie in 1935.2 Illustrations of his original work can be seen in Figures 1 and 2. Based on Glen Millikan’s3 ear oximeter (Figure 3) we developed a twin beam oximeter using selenium photo cells and Wratten Filters with some, but not notable success. In the midst of our work we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Army was sending us Kramer. He had been “rescued” from Russian hands by the U.S. Army who had dressed him as an American soldier in order to bring him back through the Russian lines. With his help we were able to gain new insights into the principles of oximetry.4 While I was working on the ear oximeter, I worked also as a research technician in a laboratory which measured oxygen content in arterial blood, pre and post pneumonectomy. This was done by obtaining arterial samples, considered a highly dangerous procedure, and analyzing them in the Van Slyke apparatus.5 (Figure 4) The analyses were performed by transferring a sample of blood into the closed end of a mercury manometer along with a reagent to free any bound oxygen and then observing the nanometric change that occurred as a result of the free gas.


Pulse Oximeter Oxygen Measurement Mercury Manometer American Soldier Wratten Filter 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth Sugioka
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnesthesiologyDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA

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