Category Archives: Science History

Prize Lecture Memoria – Edward Sharpey-Schafer

M0020242 Portrait of Sir E.A. Sharpey-Schafer

Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer (1850 –1935) was an English physiologist and Fellow of the Royal Society. Born Edward Schäfer, he studied under the physiologist William Sharpey and became the first Sharpey Scholar in 1873 at University College London (UCL). In 1874 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Practical Physiology at UCL where he went on to become Jodrell Professor. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1878 at the age of just 28. Schäfer was appointed Chair of Physiology at the University of Edinburgh in 1899 where he would stay until his retirement. He was one of the nineteen founder members of the Physiological Society in 1876 and he also founded and edited [the Quarterly Journal of] Experimental Physiology from 1908 until 1933. Schäfer was knighted in 1913. He is renowned for his invention of the prone-pressure method or Schäfer method of artificial respiration. He was very active as a facilitator, mentor, coordinator, teacher and organiser through much of his career. He had started as a histologist and always emphasised the importance of structural knowledge. He was the co-discoverer (in 1894, with George Oliver) of adrenaline (as in the adrenal-derived, circulating hormone) and he coined the term ‘endocrine’ as the generic term for such secretions. He intuited (as did a few others, independently) that insulin must exist (i.e. a pancreatic hormone to account for diabetes mellitus) and coined the name (originally as ‘insuline’). (Banting and Best actually discovered what S-S and the others had predicted). Thus, he had a founding role in modern endocrinology. He also did important early work on the localisation of function (e.g. motor centres) to brain regions. After the death of his eldest son, John Sharpey Schafer, and in memory of his late professor William Sharpey, he changed his surname to Sharpey-Schafer in 1918. Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer died on 29 March 1935 aged 84. Funded by bequests from Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer (1850–1935) and his daughter Miss GM Sharpey-Schafer and in memory of Sir Edward and his grandson Professor EP Sharpey-Schafer, The Physiological Society established the Sharpey-Schafer Prize Lecture. This is a triennial lecture given alternately by an established physiologist (preferably but not necessarily from abroad) and a young physiologist chosen by The Society.

Prize Lecture Memoria – William Paton

451_WDM PatonSir William Drummond Macdonald Paton (1917 –1993), always known as Bill Paton, was an English physiologist, pharmacologist and Fellow of the Royal Society, considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest pharmacologists. He was responsible for discovering two new classes of drug that acted on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. His theorised multiple types of nicotinic receptor (confirmed in the 1970s) formed the foundation of the development of Decamethonium, the first specific neuromuscular blocking drug and Hexamethonium, the first drug that specifically and safely lowered blood pressure. Paton was also charged with finding the solution to the problem of convulsions suffered by deep-sea divers if they went more than 200ft below sea-level, having discovered that the high pressure causing the convulsions could be reversed with anaesthetics. He was awarded a CBE in 1968 and knighted in 1979 for his work. Paton not only made countless discoveries but was also heavily involved in numerous public committees and had a special interest in the history of medicine. He made a substantial donation to The Society that founded the Paton Prize Fund for historical research on physiology and physiologists. Paton was Honorary Director of the Wellcome Institute for History of Medicine from 1983 to 1987. Sir William Drummold Macdonald Paton died on 17 October 1993. In 1994, The Physiological Society introduced the Paton Prize Lecture, this annual lecture commemorates Paton’s support and initiatives for promoting interest in the history of scientific experiments and ideas.

Prize Lecture Memoria – Otto Hutter

HUTTER, Otto 1996 Wellcome (106. 23-23A)Otto Fred Hutter (born 1924) is an Austrian-born physiologist, Emeritus Regius Professor of Physiology at the University of Glasgow who is recognised as a passionate and innovative teacher. Born in Vienna, Otto Hutter was one of the hundreds of Jewish children evacuated to the UK in 1938 under the Kindertransport programme to escape the Nazi occupation. He did wartime work on the purification of penicillin and graduated with a BSc and PhD from University College London (UCL). He then continued at UCL as a researcher and then Lecturer in the Department of Physiology under GL Brown. Otto Hutter is renowned for his research in the fields of neuromuscular and synaptic transmission and cardiac and skeletal muscle physiology. His work (with Otto Trautwein) describing the cardiac pacemaker potential and its acceleration by adrenaline (in the tortoise sinus) and slowing by acetylcholine, and his own discovery of the increase in potassium permeability that underpins the latter, remain textbook findings. He is also acknowledged  as an international authority on the movement of ion across membranes. In 2009 The Society launched the Otto Hutter Teaching Prize, to recognise outstanding teachers of undergraduate physiology and to raise the profile of physiology teaching.

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.

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.