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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.

Sources: Nobel Prize Biography; “Herbert Spencer Gasser” by Merrill W. Chase and Carlton C. Hunt.