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Memories of Dr. John H. Milsum

John H. Milsum

John H. Milsum worked at the National Research Council (Ottawa) from 1950 to 1961, with a break from 1954 to 1957 to do graduate studies in control engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1961 he came to McGill as the first Abitibi professor of control engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering.

Milsum's 1966 book Biological Control Systems Analysis is a classic and has been translated into many languages.

In 1972 Dr. Milsum moved to UBC to become the Imperial Oil professor of general systems and a professor in the Department of Health Care and Epidemiology. He became founding director of UBC's Institute of Health Promotion Research (later the Centre for Population Health Promotion Research) in 1990.

Dr. Milsum died peacefully at home in 2008 November, at age 83.

This page presents messages from four people who studied under Dr. Milsum in the early years of the BioMedical Engineering Unit that he founded at McGill.


John was my teacher, mentor, colleague and very good friend. He motivated me, challenged me and cheered when I had succeeded. He was an exceptional intellect who had a major impact on the development of biomedical engineering and had a major impact on everybody whose life he touched. He was a dear and loyal friend. Doreen and I will miss him greatly.
Charles and Doreen Laszlo (Vancouver, BC)


John Milsum pioneered the development of Biomedical Engineering in Canada; he wrote an important text book – Biological Control Systems – and created one of the first academic units – the Biomedical Engineering Unit (BMEU) at McGill University in the late 1960’s. Both have stood the test of time. Biological Control Systems is still a very useful reference while the BMEU is now a Department in the Faculty of Medicine with almost 100 graduate students. John also played an important role in my personal development – he was my Master’s thesis research supervisor and got me started on a PhD before he left McGill for UBC. John taught me many things including but most important how to apply engineering methods to biomedical research appropriately (more difficult than it sounds) and that clear technical writing requires much hard work and meticulous attention to style (something that I still try to communicate to my own students). I still have a clear vision of him from his days at McGill – an immaculate, starched white lab coat, unruly shock of matching white hair, and bow tie. I was sad to hear of his passing but believe that his intellectual contributions will live on.
Rob Kearney (Montréal, QC)


To the family –
I was one of John Milsum’s very first graduate students. I want to share with you that he was a wonderful and clear teacher, who motivated his classes to their full potential. He was the promoter of Biomedical Engineering at McGill, creating the first formal academic entity for this field in Canada, and my first home as a graduate student in Biomedical Engineering.
His style of thinking influenced many of us and a good fraction of the Department of Biomedical Engineering here was shaped by his supervision and vision. He saw the potential of this new field well before his peers. Today at McGill I am happy as Chair of the Department to report that BME is involved in many research projects that cross faculty lines and link engineers, basic scientists and clinicians from nano to macro systems. The future looks great for impact on health care and e-Health across the world. Well done John! I hope we made you proud.
Henrietta (Mimi) Galiana (née Brants) (Montréal, QC)


I was a graduate student of a graduate student of John Milsum, so I indirectly benefited from the quality of his supervision, and I also had the pleasure of taking his course on biological control theory at McGill in 1969. In looking at my course notes I see that in the first two days he discussed control theory as related to the arms race, the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and predator-prey relationships, quite apart from the usual biological systems. Very heady stuff for a young engineering student, and things that he said still resonate today. The text-book for the course was his recent ‘Biological Control Systems Analysis’. My copy sits on its shelf beside a Japanese edition, for the importance and quality of the book were quickly recognized and it was translated into many languages. As a reviewer said at the time, ‘there is a great deal in this book, all of it good and all of it relevant’. John lives on in our thoughts and in our own teaching.
Robert Funnell (Montréal, QC)


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Last modified: Fri, 2010 Jul 16 12:39:02