Measuring the energy of nervous impulses:
the friendship (1911-1950) of Hill and Meyerhof and the emergence of neurochemistry
Arshad M. KHAN
The long-term purpose of this project is to trace the historical developments surrounding the collaborative friendship of two scientists, and how this collaboration, though primarily focused on muscle physiology, helped to contribute to our present day understanding of the energetics of nerve cell conduction.
In 1922, Otto Fritz Meyerhof of Kiel and Archibald Vivian Hill of London shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their contributions to muscle physiology1. These achievements were the culmination of a collaboration and friendship that began in 1911, when Meyerhof first exchanged correspondence with Hill2, and which persisted through and past the First World War. Although Hill and Meyerhof are best known for their work on muscle preparations, comparatively less attention has been given — in published historical accounts of neurochemistry3 — of their great influence on the development of nerve cell energetics. Some of these influences, which begin after the First World War, involved the training of new scientists. Two examples are described below.
The poster presentation accompanying this abstract includes excerpts from the later correspondence of Hill to Meyerhof during and after the Second World War, oral history source material regarding Bernard Abbott and A. V. Hill, and rare photographs of Meyerhof, Hill and Hill’s students, including Bernard Katz. Material is also presented which provides insight about the impact of the Second World War on these scientists’ personal lives and careers, including the flight of Meyerhof from Nazi Germany and occupied France.
The author is grateful to Nancy R. Miller, Public Records Archivist at the University Archives Center, University of Pennsylvania, for providing access to A. V. Hill’s correspondence with O. Meyerhof, and is indebted to Pauline and Doris Abbott for graciously providing interviews to the author, as well as photographs from the late Bernard Abbott’s personal collection. Finally, the author thanks Dr. Chien-Ping Ko for valuable discussions, and Dr. Alan G. Watts and Dr. Larry W. Swanson for guidance and support.
12th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the
History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)