Herbert Spencer Gasser
(1888 - 1963)
Herbert Spencer Gasser was born on July 5, 1888, in
Platteville, Wisconsin. Gasser
attended the University of Wisconsin, receiving his bachelors (1910)
and masters degrees (1911). For a few years Gasser studied physiology
under Dr. Joseph Erlanger. During this time, he focused much research
on the electrophysiology of the nerves. He received his doctorate from
Johns Hopkins University in 1915.
After the United States entered World War I in 1917,
Gasser and Erlanger collaborated on research to work on problems regarding
the war effort.
In 1921, he became Professor of Pharmacology in 1921
at Washington University. A decade later, Gasser was appointed Professor
of Physiology and Head of the Medical Department at Cornell University
in New York City. From 1935 to 1953, he was Director of the Rockefeller
Institute for Medical Research.
He was awarded the Nobel
Prize for Medicine in 1944, along with Joseph
Erlanger, for their
work with action potentials in nerve fibers. The award was presented
to Gasser in New York because of the ongoing world war; however, the
official ceremony occurred in Stockholm on December 10, 1945. Gasser’s
research showed that the intricacy of the oscillograph results was because
of the different conductivity rates of various sets of nerve fibers.
This research helped to further the understanding of the reasons of
pain and reflex actions.
In 1936, Gasser was appointed editor of The Journal
of Experimental Medicine and, in 1937, co-authored the book Electrical
Signs of Nervous Activity.
In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, he was a
member of the United States National Academy of Sciences (1934). In
1946, he was elected Foreign Member of the Royal Society in London.
Gasser was also selected to serve as President of the Board of Directors
of the Russel Sage Institute of Pathology.
Gasser died on May 11, 1963.
Prize Biography; “Herbert
Spencer Gasser” by Merrill W. Chase and Carlton C. Hunt.