Tonawanda News

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January 23, 2013

Tonawanda man to receive tech honor from Obama

Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Norman R. McCombs is set to receive the nation’s highest technology award from President Barack Obama in the White House in just over a week. But despite all the attention he’s getting from the billion dollar industry he spawned, he remains a humble town resident. 

“I just was at the right place at the right time,” said McCombs, who has 40 U.S. patents to his name. “I got help from a lot of people.” 

McCombs, 75, developed a new way to separate gases in the 1960s called Pressure Swing Adsorption while doing research at Linde Division of Union Carbide, Praxair’s predecessor.

Although the technology has been used for safety in many different industries, including fish farming and paper manufacturing, McCombs’ claim to fame is his creation of the first PSA system for use by patients. 

McCombs created portable and wearable oxygen systems for those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. 

The device uses an electrical outlet or a battery and delivers oxygen through a mask, extending the lives of those with COPD, a leading cause of death worldwide. 

“There was no eureka moment, there were a lot of eureka moments,” McCombs said of his invention. “Idea moments, when they happen — it’s just a coincidence. It’s like the guy who created super glue ... he didn’t know he was creating it.” 

Although the first portable device he created weighed more than 200 pounds, McCombs worked to make one that is small and safe enough that the Federal Aviation Administration approved it for travel, making it possible for COPD sufferers to fly safely. It’s just 1.8 pounds. 

Now, thanks to McCombs’ work, there are 1.2 million oxygen concentrators in the U.S. alone, helping millions of individuals and saving billions in health care costs per year. 

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