Artificial Heart Inventor Was Inspired by His Plumber Father

Bivacor founder Daniel Timms learned fluid dynamics and how to get things done

2 min read
Timms and his father in Brisbane, Australia.
Photo: Daniel Timms

When Daniel Timms was growing up in Brisbane, Australia, he spent many hours helping his father build wild contraptions featuring pumps and waterfalls. His father, a plumber with a passion for invention, taught Timms about fluid dynamics and also instilled in him “a practical attitude toward getting things done,” Timms says.

In 2001 Timms’s father was diagnosed with a condition that would gradually rob his heart of its ability to pump blood throughout his body. That’s when Timms, who was then getting his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, began working on a revolutionary design for an artificial heart [see “This Maglev Heart Could Keep Cardiac Patients Alive”]. He enlisted his father in the effort, and the two began tinkering with prototypes in the backyard shed. With pipes and valves from a local hardware store, they built a rudimentary model of the human cardiovascular system so that they could hook up prototype heart pumps for testing.

After Timms got his Ph.D., he went to Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital and convinced physicians in the cardiology unit to clear out a room, which he turned into an engineering lab. Just down the hall was the intensive care unit (ICU), where his father regularly ended up as his heart problems worsened. Timms would drop his tools and walk down the hall to visit.

The last time his father was admitted to the ICU, in 2006, it was Timms who drove him to the hospital. Timms was supposed to get on a plane to Germany the following day, where he was to meet with potential collaborators. Timms asked his father whether he should cancel the trip. “He said, ‘You’ve got to get there; this is what we’ve been working for,’ ” Timms remembers. His father passed away a few days later. But the trip did lead to a fruitful collaboration, which led to other partnerships in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. Today Timms’s company, Bivacor, has its headquarters in Houston, where it’s preparing for clinical trials of its artificial heart. Timms is sure his father would be pleased with the outcome of their backyard tinkering.

This back story article appears in the September 2019 print issue as “Taking Lessons to Heart.” It’s an accompaniment to the print feature article, “The Maglev Heart.”

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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