The Visionary

Moody, Norman F.

Norman F. Moody, Professor Emeritus & Founding Director

It all began with circuits.

It was 1935 when Norman F. Moody of Herne Bay, England, landed a job as a Junior Engineer designing radio receivers for Halcyon Radio. A self-taught man in a post-WWI era when post-secondary education was out of reach for many, Moody quickly rose up the ranks of television design—an area that was just beginning to become a reality.

During the Second World War Moody exhibited an extraordinary ability to pinpoint future areas of importance. Working for England’s Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE), he was a major contributor to groundbreaking advances in the development of airborne radar. In his short history on Professor Moody, Professor Emeritus Richard F. Cobbold argues that Moody’s advances with the circuitry can’t be overstated: “The development of radar, IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), and other navigational systems were a key factor in determining the outcome of the war in the air. […] Norman’s contributions were a vital part of this work.”

With his uncanny knack for finding himself in groundbreaking research, Moody moved his family to Canada shortly after the war, where he worked for the National Research Council’s Chalk River Laboratories, soon to be known as Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

The Atomic Age had begun, and Moody was one of its players. With teams from Canada, the U.K. and Australia, Moody witnessed the first tests off the coast of North West Australia in 1952. He moved his family back to Ottawa, Canada in 1952, joining the military efforts in this country as he established the basic circuits research section of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE).

But it was his longstanding friendship with Arthur Porter, Dean of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, that soon altered the course of Moody’s career—and the history of biomedical engineering in Canada—when Porter urged him to apply as Head the Electrical Engineering Department.

Not everyone was overjoyed at his candidacy. “[A] major difficulty was the fact that Norman had no academic degree or academic experience,” Cobbold writes, “and [then president of the U of Saskatchewan] was somewhat aghast at the idea of having a senior faculty member listed in the University Calendar without a degree.” The University overcame this particular hurdle by awarding Norman Moody an honourary Undergraduate degree.

But it was during this tenure that Moody developed an interest in the interface of medicine and engineering, when a budding neurosurgery department interested in developing the means to measure cerebral blood flow and perform brain scans using isotopes enlisted Moody to design and build their instrumentation.

A short time later Moody followed Porter to the University of Toronto, where interest in the collaboration of medicine and engineering was strong. Showing a great deal of foresight, Porter, Engineering’s Dean McLaughlin, and Medicine’s Dean Hamilton, decided that a common research Institute could help shape this relationship between these two faculties.

History was born when the Institute of Biomedical Electronics, the first of its kind in Canada, opened its doors in 1962, and Norman Moody was appointed as its first Director. Though just the first inception of what would eventually become known as the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto, Moody helped shape the last collaboration and impact on generations of Engineers who work at this cutting edge of medical and engineering research.

“Norman was an individual of extraordinary talent,” says Cobbold, “not only for building new research organizations but also for pioneering work in new fields such as biomedical engineering. His wide range of interests together with an inspiring and supportive approach had a lasting impact on all those who worked with him.”

Professor Paul Santerre, articulates that Moody’s legacy is as pervasive as it is lasting: “the University of Toronto is forever grateful for his foresight and initiative as the Institute’s first director, an honor recognized annually in the awarding of the Norman F. Moody Award, established in 1974 on the occasion of his retirement from the University of Toronto, and awarded yearly to a graduate student in recognition of her/his academic excellence. The latter are a true to testament to the values instilled into the Institute by this great leader and innovator.”