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Oral history interview with Sol Rosenblatt

  • 2015-Sep-30
  • 2015-Oct-22

Sol Rosenblatt was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, one of two children. His father was in the garment industry, his mother a housewife. The family was of Russian Jewish heritage. Rosenblatt attended public schools and was always interested in science. He had a small chemistry lab in his basement and liked especially to produce chemical effects involving colors. The Depression was hard on the family, but Rosenblatt’s father insisted that Rosenblatt remain in school and go to college. Rosenblatt followed a cousin’s example and attended City College of New York, which was well-respected and tuition-free. The curriculum was technical, with few electives used mainly for “resting.”

Rosenblatt’s first job, with the City of New York, involved assessing paint quality for city structures, before moving on quality control of cement for the new water tunnel. He developed a new water-based enamel for the Ford Motor Company during his time as a paint chemist with Heyden Newport Corporation where technical management was Jewish. At that time, many of the chemical/drug companies were influenced by Germans and anti-Semitism was rampant. He met his wife, Vicky, during this time.

The Rosenblatts moved to Sacramento, California, where at first Rosenblatt helped designate his chemical lab facilities and began work on Polaris missile propellants; he developed an epoxy-based propellant hoping to develop a safe and stable composition to contain hydrazine perchlorate oxidizer. Moving back to the East Coast, Rosenblatt next took a job with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company, which had a contract to build a space capsule for the Apollo program. Fuel cells were necessary for power, so Rosenblatt developed high-temperature membranes separators. Using membrane technology he also investigated producing potable water from the fuel cell’s production of water as part of the life support program for the astronauts. He also conceived of a method to achieve self-sealing of space radiators as a protection against potential meteorite collisions.

Upon leaving Pratt with his membrane experience Rosenblatt received equity in Chemplasts Corporation, where his membrane technology for chemical filtration, sensing instruments such as for gas detection, medical applications and cable wraps named Zitex was developed and marketed. Chemplast was sold to US Stoneware.

Next, he started Polytech Company to refine Teflon waste, but a competitor burglarized his plant and stole his technical information. Continuing his interest in the medical field, Rosenblatt developed semipermeable membranes for heart-lung machines. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) brought in Brian Bellhouse from the University of Oxford to provide proper hemodynamic mechanisms for an oxygenator using Rosenblatt’s membranes. Alas, J&J shelved the product for business reasons and Rosenblatt brought a suit for loss of royalties and they were found guilty of unethical business practices. He then worked for Electro-Catheter Corporation developing and marketing diagnostic catheters.

Finding that J&J had legal difficulties over lint from gauze left behind in surgery, Rosenblatt saw an opportunity and invented and developed a lint-free sponge based on Christopher Wilson’s polyvinyl alcohol sponge technology as a substitute for surgical cotton and founded a company with an engineer at Edward Weck which was making cellulose products for microsurgery. They named the sponge Merocel. The company grew to over sixty employees in Mystic, Connecticut plus worldwide agents and Rosenblatt’s wife was manager of international sales. After many products based on the sponge in the eye, ear, nasal, and neurosurgery the company sold to Medtronic Corporation. Thirty years later, Merocel is still used for many medical applications.

Rosenblatt became aware of the need for infection control during his Apollo program experience and noting the rise of bacteria resistance to antibiotics he developed a wound-healing dressing called Merodine. While at Merocel Corporation. It was comprised of an iodine complex with a polymer to control release iodine, a broad effective spectrum antimicrobial. The dressing was initially developed as an improvement for the soldier bandage tourniquet used on the battlefield as well as for chronic wounds. As superbugs continued to be a problem, he began further development of iodophors and is continuing inventing in this field.

Rosenblatt is the proudest of his Merocel. He says he remains an optimist for the independent inventor though he has used more energy fighting to bring his inventions to market. Always trying to improve health care his mind never stops inventing.

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