Monday, October 25, 2010

Marian Elliot Koshland

Marian Elliot Koshland was born in New Haven, Connecticut on October 15, 1921 to Margarethe Smith Elliot, a teacher and Walter Elliot a hardware salesman. When she was four, her younger brother contracted typhoid fever. While her parents sat vigil at her brother's hospital bedside, two girls next door taught her to read and do math. After her brother returned home, she and her brother were kept in quarantine by her parents for the next year. Her father took the part of schoolmaster, teaching his daughter. When she went to schools she was more advanced than her peers, giving her a confidence in her ability to learn. In high school she took the hardest classes and after graduation was admitted to Vassar College, where she supported herself with scholarships and lived in a co-op dormitory. She graduated in 1942 with a B.A. in bacteriology.

After graduation she spent one year at medical school, but opted to go to the University of Chicago where she earned a M.S. in bacteriology (1943) and a Ph.D. in immunology (1949). While at the University of Chicago she worked on two projects, one was a vaccine for cholera, intended to help service men serving in the Far East and the other was working on ways to prevent the spread of disease among military recruits. In 1945 she married Daniel Koshland and went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be with her husband and work on the Manhattan Project. In Oak Ridge she studied the biological effects of radiation. After she and her husband graduated, in 1949, they moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where both had postdoctoral positions at Harvard. After two years they moved to Long Island, where they both worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory and in 1965 they moved to Berkeley. At Brookhaven she was initially refused a position, but in exchange for editing the publications that followed Brookhaven symposia she was able to get a laboratory and an assistant. The Koshlands had five children, the first comming while they were graduate students at the University of Chicago, the second in 1949, two years later they had twins and the youngest child was born in 1953.

Koshland's research dealt with antibodies. Antibodies are molecules that are secreted by immune cells that attach to molecules that are foreign to the body and signal the immune system's other cells to destroy them. In the 1950's at Brookhaven, Koshland determined that there were more than one type of antibodies. She discovered that immune cells that protect mucosal cells (cells that compose outer layers of tissue, exposed to an environment, in the stomach or lungs for example) secrete a different type of antibody than the immune cells that circulate in the blood. Later, during the 1960s, she determined the amino acid structure of antibodies that bind to different pathogens is different. At the time it was believed that antibodies could bind to different things by means of different protein folds. She proved that it was different amino acids in the structure of antibodies that give them the ability to bind to different things. In the 1970s she identified a antibody protein called the j-chain (or joining chain) that allows antibodies to assemble into multiple units. The antibody secreted by circulating immune cells (called IgG) is composed of four protein molecules and has only two spaces where it binds to another protein. Some antibody complexes are larger and as many as five or six of these IgG-like units (composed of four protein molecules with two binding spots) which give them as many as ten or twelve spots to bind foreign molecules and some use this j-chain to put more than one IgG-like unit together (for an article about the structure of the different types of antibodies go here).

In 1991 Koshland was elected to the National Academy of Science. She served as the chair of the U.C. Berkeley Department of Immunology and Bacteriology from 1981 to 1989 and she has been awarded numerous honorary degrees.

She died of lung cancer on October 28, 1996.


Guyer, Ruth Levey; "Marian Elliot Koshland"; Biographical Memoirs Vol. 90; National Academy Press; 2009

Saunders, Robert; Press Release on the death of Marian Koshland; November 6, 1997

Wasserman, Elga; The Door in the Dream: Conversations with Eminent Women in Science; Joseph Henry Press; 2002

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ernest William Goodpasture

Ernest William Goodpasture was born on a farm near Clarksville, Tennessee on October 17, 1886. His father, Albert Goodpasture, was a lawyer and a farmer, who served in the Tennessee state government and ran a publishing business. It was said by his family that he took after his maternal grandfather, Dr. Stephen L. Dawson, who went to California during the gold rush, and then returned to Tennessee for a long medical practice.

Goodpasture's early education was at public schools in Nashville, Tennessee starting in 1893. Later he attended Bowen's Preparatory Academy. He went to Vanderbilt University in 1903 and graduated in 1907. After a period in which he taught elementary school in order to secure funds for his further education he started at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1908, finishing his M.D. in 1912. After graduation, with the help of a Rockefeller Fellowship he stayed at Johns Hopkins working in the school of pathology. He remained at Johns Hopkins three years after graduation, first as a fellow, then an instructor and in his third year as a resident.

In 1915 Goodpasture took a position as a pathology resident at Brigham Hospital and as an instructor in pathology at Harvard Medical School. After a two year absence, in which he served as a naval medical officer during World War I, publishing papers on the pathology of influenzal pneumonia, Goodpasture returned to Harvard where he was made assistant professor. In 1921 eager to study tropical diseases, Goodpasture took a assistant professor position at the University of the Philippines in Manila. After a year in the Philippines, Goodpasture took a position as the director of William H. Singer laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1924 Goodpasture accepted a position at Vanderbilt University and was able to return to his native state, where he remained until 1955, serving as dean of the school of medicine from 1945 to 1950.

Goodpasture's research mostly delt with viral diseases. His early work was to study the route of spread of herpes virus in neural tissue. In 1931 Goodpasture, with the help of his colleague Alice Woodruff was investigating fowl-pox and needed means to grow large numbers of viruses. Viruses, unlike bacteria, are unable to reproduce on their own. Viruses must infect cells and use their genetic machinery to reproduce themselves. Using the tissue of chicken embryos, they were able to effectively grow viruses. This discovery made it easier for researchers to grow viruses and was a huge advance in virology. Vaccines against viral diseases, today, are grown from eggs in this manner. In 1934, working with Claud D. Johnson, Goodpasture was the first to isolate the virus that causes mumps.

In 1955 Goodpasture retired from Vanderbilt University and took a position as director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and with his wife he moved to Washington D.C. He served as director until 1959, after which he returned to Nashville. He died in Nashville on September 20, 1960.


Long, Esmond R.; "Ernest William Goodpasture 1886-1960"; Biographical Memoirs; National Academy Press

Ernest William Goodpasture Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lester Halbert Germer

Lester Halbert Germer was born on October 10, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois and lived most of his childhood in Canastota, New York. He graduated from Cornell University in 1917. After graduation he joined Bell Labs and then served in World War I as a fighter pilot, earning a citation from General Pershing. After the war he returned to Bell Labs and finished his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1927.

At Bell Labs, Germer initially worked as an assistant to Clinton Davisson. In April of 1925 Davisson and Germer began working on an experiment studying the diffraction of electrons off of a nickel surface. At first their results were similar to results obtained four years earlier. Then suddenly the results changed. Looking for an explanation for the change they cut open the vacuum tube containing the nickel target. With the help of microscopist F. F. Lewis they observed that the crystalline surface of the nickel target had changed due to extreme heating. They believed that the change in their results was due to the change of the crystalline surface of the nickel target.

They performed a similar experiment in 1927, after Davisson had attended a conference where Louis-Victor DeBroglie's hypothesis about the wave nature of matter was presented. When electrons of known velocity were used to bombard the nickel surface at a 45 degree angle they observed that the diffraction of the electrons obeyed Bragg's Law, which relates the wavelength of diffracted x-rays with the lattice spacing of the target and the angle of diffraction. This was the first proof of DeBroglie's particle wave hypothesis. For this work Germer and Davisson were awarded the Elliot Cression Medal in 1931 (Davisson shared the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physics with George Thompson, who preformed a different experiment confirming DeBroglie's hypothesis four months later).

DeBroglie's hypothesis, that matter, like electromagnetic radiation, has a wave like nature is one of the more surprising revaluations that came with the development of quantum mechanics. In his doctoral thesis DeBroglie hypothesized that the wavelength of matter is dependant on its mass and velocity and that the wavelength is equal to Planck's constant divided by the momentum (p=mass*velocity) of the matter (wavelength=h/p).

After this experiment Germer continued working at Bell Labs, studying the use of this technique to determine the structure of surfaces, work that eventually led to the development of the electron microscope. In addition to his work at Bell Labs, Germer was also an avid rock climber. On October 3, 1971, one week before his 75th birthday, Germer died of a massive heart attack while he was rock climbing.


Lieter, Daryll J. and Lieter, Sharon; "A to Z of Physicists"; Infobase Publishing; 2003

MacRae, Alfred U.; "Lester H. Germer"; Physics Today(1972)25:93-97

Lester Germer Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sir Patrick Manson

Sir Patrick Manson was born in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on October 3, 1844, the second of nine children in his family. At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to an iron worker related to his mother. Soon after his health broke down and he was forced to spend all but two hours of the day in bed. These two hours he spent studying natural science. Frustrated in his attempt to earn a living as an iron worker he turned to study medicine entering Aberdeen University in 1860, finishing his final examinations by the time he was 20.

In 1866 Manson took a position as a medical officer in Formosa (Taiwan). It was here that Manson began his life long work studying tropical diseases. He remained in Formosa for five years after which he took a position as a medical officer in Amoy, an island 300 miles north of Hong Kong. In Amoy Manson was in charge of the hospital for seamen and a missionary hospital. Prejudice against western medicine was rife among the native population and consequently very few of the native Chinese trusted Manson to operate on them. One young man so overcome by his large elephantoid tumor came to Manson after attempting suicide by swallowing arsenic. Manson was able to remove the tumor and save the young man's life. Rumors of his success spread through the native population, causing a greater demand for his services.

In 1875 Manson went to London to learn more about the causes of elephantitis and chyluria. In London however there was no school that taught about tropical illnesses. His only discovery was an written account in the British Museum by Timothy Lewis, describing the discovery of microscopic worms in the blood and urine of patients with chyluria in Calcutta, India. Armed with this knowledge Manson guessed correctly that there must be another animal that carried the disease. He tested his hypothesis by feeding mosquitoes with the blood of his servant who had the disease and upon dissecting the mosquitoes he found the parasites. Although he thought that mosquitoes passed on the parasites by dying and leaving the parasites in drinking water and not transferring them by biting humans, Manson was the first to identify mosquitoes as a vector for disease.

Over one million people die each year from mosquito borne diseases. When female mosquitoes bite humans (only female mosquitoes bite humans) they inject anti-coagulants, to prevent the human's blood from clotting. With the anti-coagulants infected mosquitoes will also inject viruses and parasites. Diseases spread by mosquitoes include the malaria and helminthiasis (the cause of elephantitis) parasites, and the viruses that cause yellow and dengue fevers.

In 1883 Manson traveled to Hong Kong where he was the force behind the founding of the Medical School of Hong Kong. In 1889 Manson left Asia with the hope of retiring to Scotland. His finances proved inadequate and he returned to London where he began a practice, passing the examination for the Royal College of Physicians within a year. In 1894 Manson published a paper in which he suggested that mosquitoes might be the vector for malaria. This hypothesis would stimulate Ronald Ross into a frenzy of research nailing down the life cycle of the malarial parasite. In 1897 Manson was appointed medical officer to the Colonial Office. There he was able to able to institute many reforms which improved the health of British colonial officers. Also in 1897 Manson published a book on tropical diseases which for many years was the standard reference on the subject. For his discoveries and work in founding medical schools Manson is hailed as the father of tropical medicine.

A lifelong sufferer from gout, Manson succumbed to the disease on April 9, 1922.


Hale-White, Sir William; Great Doctors of the Nineteenth Century; Ayer Publishing; 1970

Jay, Venita; "Sir Patrick Manson: the Father of Tropical Medicine"; Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (2000)124:1594-1595

Sir Patrick Manson Wikipedia Entry