Born: 21 May 1860, Semarang, Java, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)
Died: 29 September 1927, Leiden, the Netherlands
Affiliation at the time of the award: Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands
Prize motivation: "for his discovery of the mechanism of the electrocardiogram"
Field: cardiovascular physiology
Prize share: 1/1
Willem Einthoven was born to Dutch parents on Java in what is now Indonesia. His father, a doctor, died when Willem was six, and four years later his mother returned to the Netherlands with her six children. Willem Einthoven went to medical school in Utrecht and received his doctor's degree in 1885. The following year he was made a professor in Leiden, where he worked for the rest of his life. Willem Einthoven married in 1886 and had four children.
In the later half of the 1800s doctors discovered that heartbeats create weak electrical currents on the body's surface. A diagram showing how these currents vary (an electrocardiogram or ECG) provides a picture of how a heart is functioning. Willem Einthoven developed doctors' ability to depict the heart and its parts, functions, and illnesses using ECGs. One key to this progress was the string galvanometer, which precisely measures tiny currents, constructed by Willem Einthoven in 1903.
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