Photo of Norman R. McCombs

Norman R. McCombs

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Medicine

For the development and commercialization of pressure swing adsorption oxygen-supply systems with a wide range of medical and industrial applications that have led to improved health and substantially reduced health care costs.

Norman McCombs on what continues to excite him about his work

Norman McCombs began his career at the Fedders Corporation, in Liberty Corner, NJ, developing central air conditioning systems. In 1963, he moved to the Linde Division of Union Carbide to become a project manager and completed his bachelor’s degree at SUNY Buffalo. While in the lab, he studied ultra-thin films for oxygen systems and eventually created a Pressure Swing Adsorption system, making possible safe, cost-effective oxygen plants for hospitals, waste treatment facilities, metal manufacturing. It was a major innovation. In waste treatment, for example, PSA systems made it possible for the same facility to treat 500% more waste.

After this early success, McCombs started his own company to further the applications of PSA technology in other industries and found additional customers in the automotive industry—mechanics were relying on the continual delivery of oxygen for their torch work and PSA systems offered a safer, cheaper alternative. But as he refined his initial design and continued to create smaller, more efficient units, he also saw that PSA systems could be shrunk to the point of human portability and in doing so would help millions suffering from lung conditions. Today his smallest PSA systems are just two pounds and in use around the world.

By Casey Samulski