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Robert Bárány

(1876 - 1936)

Robert Bárány was born in Vienna, Austria on April 22, 1876. Bárány first became interested in medicine following his development of tuberculosis. In 1900, he graduated with a medical degree from Vienna University. After graduating, Bárány became a doctor in Vienna.

During one visit from a patient, Bárány began syringing fluid into the inner ear of a patient to get rid of the patient’s vertigo and nystagmus (involuntary eye movement). At first Bárány injected fluids that were too cold. Consequently, he warmend the fluid for the patient, which caused the patient to experience nystagmus in the opposite direction.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1914 for his work on the physiology and pathology of the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear, which helps to provide balance. Bárány theorized that the fluid in the inner ear was sinking when it was cool and rising when it was warm, and thus the direction of flow of the fluid was providing the signal to the vestibular organ. He followed up on this observation with a series of experiments on what he called the caloric reaction. The research resulting from his observations made surgical treatment of vestibular organ diseases possible. Bárány also investigated other aspects of equilibrium control, including the function of the cerebellum (region of the brain important for the integration of sensory perception).

During World War I, he served in the Austrian army as a civilian surgeon and was captured by the Russian Army. When his Nobel Prize was awarded in 1914, Bárány was in a Russian prisoner of war camp. He was released in 1916 following diplomatic negotions with Russia conducted by Prince Carl of Sweden and the Red Cross. He was then able to attend the Nobel Prize awards ceremony in 1916, where he was awarded his prize.

After having his work critized by his Vienna colleagues, Bárány accepted the position of Principal and Professor of an Otological Institute in Uppsala. From 1917 until his death, he was professor at Uppsala University. Barany died on April 8, 1936.

Sources: Wikipedia; Nobel Prize Biography; Picture courtesy of: National Institutes of Health