Journal of Clinical Monitoring

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 270–288

History of blood gas analysis. VI. Oximetry

  • John W. Severinghaus
  • Poul B. Astrup
Historical Review


Oximetry, the measurement of hemoglobin oxygen saturation in either blood or tissue, depends on the Lambert-Beer relationship between light transmission and optical density. Shortly after Bunsen and Kirchhoff invented the spectrometer in 1860, the oxygen transport function of hemoglobin was demonstrated by Stokes and Hoppe-Seyler, who showed color changes produced by aeration of hemoglobin solutions. In 1932 in Göttingen, Germany, Nicolai optically recorded the in vivo oxygen consumption of a hand after circulatory occlusion. Kramer showed that the Lambert-Beer law applied to hemoglobin solutions and approximately to whole blood, and measured saturation by the transmission of red light through unopened arteries. Matthes in Leipzig, Germany, built the first apparatus to measure ear oxygen saturation and introduced a second wavelength (green or infrared) insensitive to saturation to compensate for blood volume and tissue pigments. Millikan built a light-weight car “oximeter” during World War II to train pilots for military aviation. Wood added a pneumatic cuff to obtain a bloodless zero. Brinkman and Zijlstra in Groningen, The Netherlands, showed that red light reflected from the forehead could be used to measure oxygen saturation. Zijlstra initiated cuvette and catheter reflection oximetry. Instrumentation Laboratory used multiple wavelengths to measure blood carboxyhemoglobin and methemoglobin is cuvette oximeters. Shaw devised an eight-wavelength ear oximeter. Nakajima and coworkers invented the pulse oximeter, which avoids the need for calibration with only two wavelengths by responding only to the pulsatile changes in transmitted red and infrared light. Lübbers developed catheter tip and cuvette fiberoptic sensors for oxygen tension, carbon dioxide tension, and pH.

Key Words

Oxygen: saturation Measurement techniques: oximetry spectrophotometry photocells optodes Blood: gas analysis, history 


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Copyright information

© Springer 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • John W. Severinghaus
    • 1
  • Poul B. Astrup
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anesthesia and Anesthesia Research Center, Cardiovascular Research InstituteUniversity of California Medical CenterSan Francisco
  2. 2.Department of Clinical ChemistryRigshospital, University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.Anesthesia Research Center1386 HSE, University of California Medical CenterSan Francisco

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