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Swanson School recognizes N.C. Joseph Lai, co-inventor of the pulse oximeter, as its 2023 Distinguished Alumnus


Above: Joseph Lai (left) with Interim U.S. Steel Dean Sanjeev Shroff 

The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering feted its 2023 class of Distinguished Alumni on Friday, March 3 at the University Club. Recognized as this year's top honoree was N.C. Joseph Lai ChemE PhD '73. 

“On behalf of the Swanson School, I am humbled to honor a Pitt Engineer who has leveraged his interdisciplinary expertise to not only advance his career but also improve human health through engineering, said Sanjeev G. Shroff, Interim U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering. ”Following an impressive undergraduate career at Cornell, Joseph entered Pitt for his PhD under the direction of the remarkable Chung-Chiun Liu and would engage in pioneering research in blood gas sensors. Following Pitt, Joseph led the teams that developed the first portable pulse oximeter, the first infra-red based anesthetic gases monitor, and non-invasive blood pressure monitor. Thanks to this life-saving innovation and his passion for translational research, Joseph now uses his expertise to invest in the next generation of healthcare innovations. We are proud to honor his legacy and contributions to improving human health."


About N.C. Joseph Lai

Naichiu Joseph Lai received his PhD in 1973 from the University of Pittsburgh and his BS from Cornell University in 1966, both in Chemical Engineering. Lai says that coming to Pitt in 1969 was a life changing event, as he did pioneer research in blood gas sensor development for real-time blood gas monitoring under Professor  C. C. Lui.  He explaines it opened up a new dimension for him to utilize his background in chemical engineering to pursue product development and ventures in the medical healthcare industry, eventually becoming a serial entrepreneur. Upon graduation, Lai continued biosensor development for real-time and bed-side monitoring at General Electric Medical System Group in Milwaukee, Wis., and then at other companies. He co-founded several companies:  Biochem Inc. and Criticare Systems, both vital-sign monitors manufacturing companies; Immtech (biotechnology); Gaztec & Telaire Systems Inc. (both made environmental gas monitors); and Fastgen (TB screening test). Biochem, Criticare, and Immtech went public on Nasdaq in 1981, 1986, and 1996.  He was also founder, chairman and later director (2000-2010) of BioForm Medical Inc. with product in aesthetics treatment (wrinkles).  It went public in 2007 and was acquired in 2011 by Merz Pharma GmbH. At Criticare, Lai led the team to develop the first portable pulse oximeter, the first infra-red based anesthetic gases monitor, and non-invasive blood pressure monitor (NIBP) which are now the standard of care in hospitals and clinics around the world. Lai is currently General Partner & Co-Founder of Puck Ventures, L.P. and continues to invest in early start-ups in pioneer technologies and health care industries. He met his wife, Helen, in Boston and has enjoyed her unequivocal support for 52 years.