Photo credit: Kathy Sauber. Don Baker, ’60, shows off the ultrasound prototype he developed in a UW Bioengineering lab in the early 1960s. The unit was the first in a series of bioengineering achievements that revolutionized medical ultrasound.

UW alumnus Donald W. Baker, former faculty member in the University of Washington Department of Bioengineering, will be inducted as an inaugural member of the Washington Life Science Hall of Fame. The honor, bestowed by Life Science Washington, recognizes pioneers who have had the greatest impact on life sciences in Washington state.

Dr. Baker is recognized for revolutionizing medical ultrasound through Doppler technology. He will be inducted June 1 at the Life Science Innovation Northwest conference in Seattle.
His fellow inaugural inductees are the late Karl Edmark, founder of Physio-Control; Steven Gillis, managing director at ARCH Venture Partners and founder of Immunex and Corixa; Leroy Hood, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, chief science officer for Providence Health & Services and formerly of UW; and the late Nobel Laureate E. Donnall Thomas and his wife, Dorothy Thomas, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and formerly of UW.

By refining ultrasound into one of medicine’s most essential, cost-effective diagnostic tools available, Dr. Baker revolutionized the way medicine is performed around the world. Although ultrasound was first tried in medicine in 1953, it was Dr. Baker who changed those early vague, fuzzy images into high-resolution, real-time images that reveal the inner structures of the body, from blood pumping through the heart to a fetus in the womb. His idea was to use pulsed Doppler technology, rather than continuous sound waves. Not only did the technique provide clear images, the method was completely non-invasive.

Dr. Baker graduated from UW’s electrical engineering program in 1960, and began work in the lab of the late pioneering UW bioengineering professor, Robert Rushmer, where he made his remarkable discovery. Dr. Baker published the landmark articles: “A phase coherent pulse Doppler system for cardiovascular measurement” in 1967 followed by “Pulsed Ultrasonic Blood Flow Sensing” in 1969.

Then, in a case of early successful technology transfer, Dr. Baker commercialized his marvel of medical imaging by joining forces with a newly founded Seattle-area company called Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL). ATL became one of the world’s main suppliers of ultrasound equipment, and millions of people around the world benefited from the new technology. Dr. Baker also developed a network of researchers and clinicians who would teach physicians about the new diagnostic tool locally and around the world.

In 1980, Dr. Baker retired from the UW and went to work at ATL, now a part of Philips. At the time, ATL became a major player in the healthcare industry, and helped put the Puget Sound region on the map as an international hub for healthcare technology.

In 2002, the University of Washington and the UW Alumni Association awarded Dr. Baker their highest honor: the Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus Award. He also has been honored with the Joseph Homes Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Ultrasound. His early inventions now reside in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

Learn more about Dr. Baker in a 2002 UW Columns article: By perfecting ultrasound, Don Baker revolutionized the way doctors make their diagnosis – and put Seattle on the biotech map.