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John Webster
April 5, 2023

Remembering Professor Emeritus John Webster

Written By: Tom Ziemer


John Webster, a pioneering and renowned researcher and educator in the field of biomedical instrumentation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died March 29, 2023. He was 90.

Webster first joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1967, working in electrical engineering for more than three decades before helping launch the Department of Biomedical Engineering in 1999. He developed and taught the department’s signature undergraduate design course sequence, helping to instill the BME ethos of learning through the hands-on creation of medical device prototypes. Webster also experimented with teaching techniques that would eventually be called flipped classrooms or blended learning decades before they were in vogue.

Webster, who remained active as a teacher and researcher even after retiring from full-time work, published more than 250 journal articles and wrote or edited more than 25 books. The latter figure includes the 3,000-page Encyclopedia of Medical Devices and Instrumentation and Medical Instrumentation: Application and Design, one of the most-used textbooks in biomedical engineering education around the world. He also edited the 24-volume Encyclopedia of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, featuring hundreds of authors.

Among a host of other honors, Webster was a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the International Society of Automation, the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and the Institute of Physics. In 2019, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers awarded him its 2019 James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal for his career contributions.

“John was known internationally for his research, education innovations, and textbooks,” says Professor Emeritus Willis Tompkins, Webster’s longtime collaborator and colleague. “He was a true giant in the field of medical instrumentation application and design.”

A design lab on the first floor of the Engineering Centers Building, where biomedical engineering students work on some of the fundamental skills for building devices, is fittingly named in honor of Webster and Tompkins.

Webster received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1953, adding a master’s (1965) and PhD (1967) in the discipline from the University of Rochester.

Read his full obituary.