Monthly Archives: May 2016

Prize Lecture Memoria – Michael de Burgh Daly

DALY, Michael de Burgh ,Barts,London 1978 (1. 19-19A)Michael de Burgh Daly (1922 –2002) was an English physiologist and son of the renowned physiologist and Royal Society Fellow; Ivan de Burgh Daly. Daly was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London in his clinical studies. In 1947 he became a house physician at St Bart’s and went on to become an Assistant Lecturer (1948) and then Lecturer (1950) at University College London. In 1958, at the age of just 36, he was appointed to the Chair of Physiology at Bart’s Medical School and Head of Department – a position he held until his retirement in 1984 at the age of 62. He then moved to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, to the Department of Physiology for the remainder of his life. He worked principally on peripheral arterial chemoreceptors and respiratory-cardiovascular Integration, especially with reference to the effects of hypoxia and apnoea. His work included detailed studies of diving. His Physiological Society monograph in 1997 is rightly celebrated. Michael de Burgh Daly died on 1 March 2002 aged 79. The Physiological Society established the Michael de Burgh Daly Prize Lecture in 2002; this biennial lecture is given in memory of the distinguished physiologist, with input from the Cardiovascular & Respiratory Physiology Theme Lead.

Researcher in the Spotlight May 2016


Julia Attias, Msc, BSc, is a PhD Researcher at the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences, King’s College London.

What is your research about?

I’m a PhD student at King’s College London researching into ways that will help to protect astronauts’ bodies in space. I research with a SkinSuit that has been designed to recreate gravity in order to help protect the health of astronauts when they go in to space. The SkinSuit may maintain the integrity of many physiological systems and processes, and it is my job to attempt an understanding of this. I am particularly interested in how the loading provided by the SkinSuit interacts with human movement and exercise, with emphasis on any changes it may incur to our energy expenditure or muscle activity. It’s also important that we understand this, in the hopeful eventuality that the SkinSuit is integrated with future space missions. It has already been integrated into International Space Station missions in 2015, and we hope for many more.

How did you come to be working in this field and was this something you always wanted to do? 

I have always been interested in extreme environmental physiology; that is, how the body functions in hostile environments. When I saw there was such a thing as an MSc in Space Physiology and Health, I jumped at the chance and pursued it in 2011-2012. During this time I started researching with the SkinSuit for my summer project. I then quickly realised how much I enjoyed doing research because it was the method by which to find out information that doesn’t currently exist. The project was (and still is) in collaboration with the European Space Agency, and thankfully the findings were of interest, and more research was warranted. I applied for funding for a PhD and two years later, I was fortunate enough to get awarded with a scholarship from the EPSRC, through King’s College London to continue researching with the SkinSuit and human movement. 

Up until university level, I actually wanted to be a TV presenter! After undertaking my BSc in sport science, I realised that I wanted a profession in physiology, and after my MSc, I realised I wanted a profession in space physiology/research. 

Why is your work important?

Plans for human space exploration on a far greater scale than what has been achieved before are on the agenda globally. Visits to Mars are expected within the next 20-30 years. In order to do so effectively, maintaining human function from lift off to landing is of utmost importance. The ideal recipe of countermeasures to tackle longstanding physiological de-conditioning associated with reduced gravity environments is yet to be determined. My work will hopefully go some way towards this, and if I can help even 0.0001%, I’ll be over the moon (no pun intended). 

Do you think your work can make a difference?

I really do believe so. The beauty of the research field I am in is the applicability of the findings to many other populations. Although I research with a countermeasure primarily designed for astronauts, populations such as those that are bed rested/immobilised for long periods of time, those that suffer from disuse atrophy, and those that have suffered from sustained injuries could all benefit from any positive research findings, owing to the analogies in physiological de-conditioning between these populations.

What does a typical day involve?

 A day in the life of me changes every day! It’s one of the things I like; every day is relatively unpredictable, though has its stable duties. I check emails continuously throughout the day as I work with international collaborators and we are all on different clocks. In addition, I will be working on whatever study I currently have running. So it may entail writing the ethics application, planning the study, testing subjects in the lab, analysing the data, or writing the results up and drawing some conclusions based on reading literature. Often I will create an abstract or presentation for a scientific conference. I have regular meetings with my supervisors/colleagues and peers and I also help to teach undergraduate physiology laboratory practicals, so based on the time of the year that could take up a chunk of my day too.

What do you enjoy most in your job?

Being a scientist is hugely beneficial to us all, as breakthroughs – whether about space, cancer, nutrition, exercise, plant biology, etc. – are found primarily through scientists working to tackle the world’s problems, and it feels great to be a part of that. It’s also hard not to enjoy meeting astronauts from time to time! 

What do enjoy the least?

Sometimes it can be disheartening when you didn’t find what you expected to find with your results, or similarly when you find something you didn’t expect to. Although on the flip side, I guess that’s what makes science science, and that’s what makes us as scientists curious to find out why that may have happened. After all, some scientific theories came through unexpected findings! It’s also not the most enthralling job in the world sitting in front of thousands of rows of numbers on an excel spreadsheet ready to analyse! But it’s all part and parcel of the job, and the end result of understanding your findings is always worth it.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us…

I used to dance as a teenager, and performed twice on the BBC show Blue Peter. And of course, I have two badges to show for it!

What advice would you give to students/early career researchers?

Be curious. Don’t settle for knowing ‘that’ something happens; you need to want to know ‘why’ it happens. This curiosity will inadvertently cause you to be inquisitive, creative and determined. Don’t let the word ‘can’t’ live in your vocabulary and don’t take no for an answer if your gut tells you otherwise. I believe we can do anything we set our minds to, if we want it badly enough. Find something you feel passionate about – this will fill you with the motivation you need to work hard, be determined, and succeed.


Diversity at The Physiological Society – with a focus on our scientific events

As we have highlighted previously, The Physiological Society was one of the first signatories to the Science Council’s Declaration on Diversity. We welcomed this initiative and the recognition that there is room to improve the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in all areas of science – including at our own Society.

The Society has taken its commitment to this Declaration seriously.  Under the guidance of our Diversity Champions, we have made some significant improvements to our knowledge and practices – made possible by the engagement of staff, members and Trustees, and the support of the Science Council and its networks.

Our work began with surveys of the staff and membership.  With the results used in conjunction with retrospective analyses and benchmarking studies, we have made the following changes and improvements since 2015 (note the list is not exhaustive):

  • Unconscious Bias training available to all staff, Council and Committee members.
  • Unconscious Bias workshop for members at our main conference
  • Mandatory targets of 25 % and aspirational targets of 33% for female speakers in all symposia and Departmental Seminar Schemes
  • Early Career Networking events

Signing the Declaration has catalysed a review of The Society’s activities from a different perspective; whilst we didn’t previously consider ourselves to be exclusive in any way, we are now aware that others may have considered us so. To address this, we intend to review each of our specific activities for their level of ‘inclusivity’, and to promote positive actions through regular  updates to our website and via email to the membership when needed.

Ensuring access to our scientific events is a critically important Diversity, Equality and Inclusion consideration for us. Physically bringing together hundreds of people to progress the discipline of physiology is a challenging and complex task, but The Society is keen to enable everyone to attend. To a greater or lesser extent, every physiologist will have a different requirement to facilitate and enhance their engagement at a scientific meeting (such as Physiology 2016). Some steps that we have taken to ensure that you feel welcome and able to engage have been listed below:

  • Funding available for those with caring responsibilities (For more information and how to apply, please email
  • Free guest registration
  • Rooms for breastfeeding mothers
  • Child care facilities, where possible and practical
  • Early career networking events
  • Catering for specialist diets
  • Prayer facilities
  • Live streaming of key lectures, available free of charge

Barriers and obstacles can be diverse, and sometimes hidden, but we are keen to address these wherever possible. So, whilst we take every step to ensure attendance and engagement is possible, we always welcome feedback for improvements and allowances. Please contact to discuss any specific needs that you might have.




Prize Lecture Memoria – Andrew Huxley

AF Huxley1957smallSir Andrew Fielding Huxley (1917 –2012) was a Nobel Prize winning English physiologist. Huxley studied at Trinity College, Cambridge where he joined Alan Hodgkin to study nerve impulses. Regrettably, their work was interrupted at the outbreak of war in 1939. During World War II Huxley served with the British Anti-Aircraft Command working on radar control and then with the Admiralty on naval gunnery. At the end of the war, in 1946, Huxley returned to take up a research fellowship post at Trinity College and resumed his collaboration with Hodgkin. Their experiments on the giant axons of the Atlantic squid led to their discovery of the basis of excitation and propagation of the nerve impulses (the action potential) which earnt them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963. Huxley was also interested in the then unsolved problem of how muscles contract.Using a technique of his own design, Huxley deployed interference microscopy to view living muscle fibre structure with greater precision than previously possible. In 1952, he was joined by Rolf Niedergerke and in 1954 they reported their discovery of what is commonly known as the sliding filament mechanism (The same concepts were independently published by Hugh Huxley – no relation – and Jean Hanson in the same edition of Nature). This insight is the foundation of modern understandings of muscle mechanics. Huxley’s later work developed the ‘crossbridge’ concept that accounts for all cellular movement involving ‘motor’ proteins. Sir Andrew Fielding Huxley died on 30 May 2012 aged 95. In 1999 The Physiological Society established the Hodgkin-Huxley-Katz Prize Lecture; this prestigious biennial lecture celebrates the contributions to the physiological sciences of Alan Hodgkin, Andrew Huxley and Bernard Katz. The Society’s headquarters building in London is named Hodgkin Huxley House.

Prize Lecture Memoria – Alan Hodgkin

295_14hodgkinSir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin (1914 –1998) was an English physiologist and biophysicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sir Andrew Huxley and Sir John Eccles in 1963. Hodgkin studied at Trinity College Cambridge from 1932 to 1936 and after spending some time in New York, he returned to the Physiology Department at Cambridge in 1938. Huxley was an undergraduate student there and their collaboration began. They discovered the ‘overshoot’ of the nerve action potential – the brief period during nerve cell activity when membrane polarity reverses. When war broke out in 1939, Hodgkin worked in Aviation Medicine and later on the development of the centimetric radar. As the war ended in 1945, he returned to his teaching post at Cambridge, where he and Huxley continued their work focusing on neuronal and electrophysiology. Most of these experiments  were done using giant axons of the Atlantic squid at the Marine Biological Association Laboratory in Plymouth using the voltage clamp technique. Their analysis and mathematical description of the basis of the nerve impulse and its propagation  earned them the Nobel Prize in 1963. In 1970, he became President of the Royal Society and was knighted in 1972. Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin died at the age of 84, on 20 December 1998 in Cambridge. In 1999, The Physiological Society established the Hodgkin-Huxley-Katz Prize Lecture; this prestigious biennial lecture celebrates the contributions to the physiological sciences of Alan Hodgkin, Andrew Huxley and Bernard Katz. The Society’s headquarters building in London is named Hodgkin Huxley House.

Prize Lecture Memoria – GW Harris

Geoffrey Wingfield Harris (1913 – 1971) was an English physiologist and fellow of the Royal Society, considered by many to be the father of neuroendocrinology. He published the ‘Neural Control of the Pituitary Gland’ in 1955 which predicted the subsequently discovered hormone ‘releasing factors’ acting on the hypothalamus. He was a demonstrator in Anatomy and then a lecturer in Physiology at Cambridge before working as a neuroendocrinologist at the Maudsley Hospital in London. Harris went to Oxford University in 1962 as Professor of Anatomy and a Fellow of Hertford College. He was an effective and popular teacher of anatomy, raising its profile, and contributing to the development of the new Physiological Sciences Final Honour School, which brought together for the first time, the five preclinical departments of anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology and physiology. His teaching extended to include endocrinology as a special subject. In the same year he was appointed Honorary Director of the Medical Research Council’s Neuroendocrinology Research Unit in Oxford. Here he continued his scientific research: attempting to isolate the luteinizing hormone releasing factor, and studying the effect of gonadal hormones on the sexual differentiation of the brain. He also continued to practise clinical medicine at the Littlemore Hospital, where he was Honorary Consultant, investigating gonadal and pituitary hormones in psychiatric patients. In 1986, The Physiological Society instituted a triennial lecture in memory of the late Professor G. W. Harris.