Edward Wilson Merrill

August 31, 1923 ~ August 6, 2020 (age 96)


Edward Wilson Merrill (Ed) died peacefully at home on August 6, 2020 at the age of 96 surrounded by his children and grandchildren.   He was born in New Bedford, MA on August 31,1923 to Edward Clifton Merrill of Shelburne Falls, MA and his wife Gertrude Wilson Merrill of New Bedford, MA.  He grew up in Jamaica Plain, MA and West Roxbury, MA and attended the Roxbury Latin School prior to entering Harvard College in 1941 to study the classics.

Professional Life:

    He received a B.A. in Chemistry from Harvard University in 1944 and pursued doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under the direction of Herman P. Meissner.  Merrill received his PhD in 1947 working on pioneering theories and experimental studies of polymer adhesion.   Upon graduation, he was employed by Dewey and Almy (later part of W.R. Grace) and joined MIT as an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1950.  He went up through the ranks becoming Full Professor in 1964 and was eventually appointed Carbon P Dubbs Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1973, a position he held until 1998.  Since then, he has been Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering.  He was a Visiting Lecturer in Chemistry at Harvard University from 1952 to 1958; a consultant at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital of Boston from 1960 to 1972; a consultant of the Children's Hospital in Boston from 1969 to 1972; and a consultant of the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston from 1969 to 1985.  He has also served as Chief Scientist and Consultant in Biochemical Engineering to Harvard University Health Services from 1984 to 1998.  

    He was a founder of the biomaterials field, and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), and the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).  He received the Founders Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)  in 2000; the Founders Award of the Society for Biomaterials (SFB) in 2003; and the Pierre Galletti Award from the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers in 2010.  AIChE had also bestowed upon him the 1982 Alpha Chi Sigma Award and the 1993 Charles M. A. Stine Award.  In 1990 the Society for Biomaterials (SFB) awarded him the Clemson Award.  At its Centennial in 2008 AIChE recognized him as one of the “100 Eminent Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era”.

    Over a 66-year career Professor Edward Merrill had been a pioneer in several fields of bioengineering.  In the 1950s and 60s he was the leading scientist in blood rheology.  He investigated the effect of the hematocrit,  various plasma proteins, and white blood cells on blood viscosity and flow behavior, and he developed appropriate experimental tools for rheological investigations of blood (including the patented GDM [Gilinson-Dauwalter-Merrill] viscometer) under realistic in-vitro conditions.  In the 1960s and 1970s Merrill was a pioneer in the development of the artificial kidney, analysis of its transport characteristics and optimization of hemodialyzer membranes.  In fact, Merrill's pioneering work on artificial kidneys, with Colton and Britton, led to the development of the first NIH guidelines for artificial kidneys in the 1960s.  In the 1960s, 70s and 80s he pioneered the field of protein/polymer interaction under stagnant and flow conditions and made exceptional contributions in the development of hydrogels as biomaterials, and in ionic or covalent heparinization techniques on polymer surfaces for antithrombogenic materials.  Ed Merrill and Ed Saltzman of Harvard were the pioneers who proposed polyethylene oxide (PEO) as a highly biocompatible material in a seminal 1979 paper and did significant studies to analyze its stricture and blood response. Merrill's ideas on PEO as a non-thrombogenic biomaterial led to an explosion in the use of PEG- and PEO- decorated biomedical systems. In 1973, Merrill pioneered silicone-based contact lenses that became the basis of the hard, oxygen-permeable contact lens technology.  In addition, Merrill's work on highly  crosslinked polyethylene in the 1990s with Dr W. Harris led to the new irradiation-crosslinked, high density polyethylene (HDPE) materials used in artificial joints such as knee and hip replacements.  Merrill’s contributions in the area of biomedical applications of aerosol engineering were also significant and led to the use of dipalmitoyl-lecithin aerosols for treatment of infants born with hyaline membrane disease (respiratory distress syndrome). Finally, he made significant and sustained contributions to drag reduction phenomena. Merrill was the inventor of more than 40 US patents and about 230 international patents.

    Academic Legacy:  Professor Merrill personally supervised 57 PhD, 62 MS students and 12 postdocs in his career.  About 35 of these became professors in engineering, sciences or medicine in academic institutions. About 20 of them became entrepreneurs serving as CEOs or other leaders of the chemical, biomedical or pharmaceutical industries. Prof Merrill and eight of his former students or associates were listed in the 2008 AIChE list of "100 Eminent Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era".  Furthermore, 55 of his academic descendants are members of the major Academies now:  28 are National Academy of Engineering members; 19 are members of the National Academy of Medicine; 3 are National Academy of Sciences members; and 5 are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.   Many US and international companies have been founded on his pioneering research ideas by his students and others.  A superb teacher, Ed Merrill taught the courses on polymers, biomaterials, transport phenomena and medical sciences at MIT.  His MIT course entitled  “Chemical Engineering in Medicine and Biology” was the first such course to be offered in the USA in 1963.  Ed Merrill was a concerned educator and mentor who welcomed in his laboratories numerous scientists from other countries.  He had a close association with Dr. Paul Rempp of the Macromolecular Center of Strasbourg, France and wrote an impactful book on polymers with him -- the 1991 classic “Polymer Synthesis”.  At that time, he was also a vice-president of the Boston-Strasbourg Sister City Association and a director of the Alliance Française of Boston-Cambridge from 1990 – 1996.  He was also Consultant to the Conservator, Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:  1988-98.   Ed Merrill will be greatly missed by his colleagues.


Personal Life:

    Ed Merrill married Genevieve de Bidart (Ginette) on August 19 1948 in Cambridge, MA and this August they would have celebrated their 72nd anniversary.  (Ginette had passed away 7 months earlier on December 20 2019.)  They are survived by:  their daughter Anne and son Frank Merrill, and their grandchildren:  James, Sasha and Julia Merrill. They had spent their honeymoon on Nantucket Island, MA and in the summers of their last 25 years, this became the location for the family vacation with the children and grandchildren there.

    Ed was above all a family man:  He took great pride in his two children and three grandchildren and enjoyed the time he spent with them immensely.  Early summer vacations were spent in France with the children, and he never missed a sporting event or a school play.  He was at one time the president of the board of trustees of the Buckingham School in Cambridge, MA and he was an integral part of the merger between the Buckingham and the Browne & Nichols Schools in 1974.

    In his later years, he attended every sporting event his grandchildren had, and spent weekends with them in his garden, picking from Ginette’s raspberry bushes or planting new annuals for the season.  After family dinners, Ed took great pleasure in sitting in his library, surrounded by his and Ginette’s collection of literature – spanning from the ancient works of Plato, Homer and Aristotle to those of Marcel Proust, Mark Twain and especially William Dean Howells.  Every night he would sit amongst their collection, sipping Grand Marnier and listening to the works of Mozart and Bach. As his grandchildren grew, he would enjoy these evenings with them, discussing the world, his early life, and the love of his life: Ginette. Occasionally, Ed couldn’t help but include a quick lecture on his early research in polymer chemistry and the intricacies of plastics. Ed was not simply a father and grandfather, but a mentor and inspiration to all who encountered him. His presence and his wisdom will sorely be missed by all whose lives he touched, and he will be greatly missed by his family.  The family has already held private services.

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