Today in History – March 30, 1842 – Dr. Crawford Long first uses ether as anesthesia to provide his patients with painless surgery.
Diethyl ether (C2H5-O-C2H5), also known as ethyl ether or simply ether, is a clear, highly flammable liquid with a sweet, pungent odor. It vaporizes easily, boiling at a temperature slightly above normal room temperature (34.6 oC or 94.3 oF). In addition to its use as an anaesthetic, ether is widely used as a solvent in both laboratory and manufacturing applications. It is also used as a starting fluid in diesel engines.
During the 19th century, both ether and chloroform (CHCl3) were used as anaesthetics during surgery, but by the early 20th century, the use of chloroform was discontinued because it was discovered to be considerably more toxic than ether. Today, ether has been largely replaced as an anaesthetic by several more recently developed substances that are non-flammable and offer reduced side effects. However, it is still used in some developing nations because of its relative non-toxicity and low cost.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on medical technology, or view our Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering Education community site.