The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 27, 2014

February 27, 1926

David H. Hubel (February 27, 1926 to September 22, 2013), a scientist, described his forebears by mentioning that

.... my paternal grandfather, emigrated as a child to the U.S.A. from the Bavarian town of Nördlingen. He became a pharmacist and achieved some prosperity by inventing the first process for the mass producing of gelatin capsules. ...[And himself this way:] As a boy my main hobbies were chemistry...and electronics. I soon tired of the electronics because nothing I built ever worked....At McGill College I did honors mathematics and physics, partly to find out why nothing worked in electronics, but mainly because it was more fun to do problems than to learn facts. I still much prefer to do science than to read about it. I graduated in 1947 and, almost on the toss of a coin, despite never having taken a course in biology (even in high school, where it was considered a subject only for those who could not do Latin or mathematics) I applied to Medical School at McGill....

and there I became fascinated by the nervous system....
[Later I] was lucky enough to be assigned to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Neuropsychiatry Division, and there, at the age of 29, I finally began to do research. One then had little of the feeling of frenetic competition that is found in graduate students today [1981]; it was possible to take more long-shots without becoming panic stricken if things didn't work out brilliantly in the first few months. We were not free from financial worries, as graduate students in biology by and large are now; until I entered the army my income was close to zero, and I owe a huge debt to my wife Ruth for supporting us through those lean and exploited years of residency and fellowship training.

Scientifically, I could hardly have chosen a better place than Walter Reed.....[T]he focus was on the entire nervous system, not on a subdivision of biological subject matter based on methods..... My main project while at Walter Reed was a comparison of the spontaneous firing of single cortical cells in sleeping and waking cats. I began by recording from the visual cortex: it seemed most sensible to look at a primary sensory area, and the visual was easiest, there being less muscle between that part of the brain and the outside world. It was first necessary to devise a method for recording from freely moving cats and to develop a tungsten microelectrode tough enough to penetrate the dura. That took over a year, but in the end it was exciting to be able to record from a single cell in the cortex of a cat that was looking around and purring.

In 1958 I moved to the Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins Hospital, to the laboratory of Stephen Kuffler, and there I began collaboration with Torsten Wiesel. A year later Kuffler's entire laboratory (nine families) moved to Harvard Medical School in Boston ....Five years later, in a move unprecedented for Harvard, we became the new Department of Neurobiology.....

Since the age of five I have spent a disproportionate amount of time on music, for many years the piano, then recorders, and now the flute. I do woodworking and photography, own a small telescope for astronomy, and I ski and play tennis and squash. I enjoy learning languages, and have spent untold hours looking up words in French, Japanese and German dictionaries. In the laboratory I enjoy almost everything, including machining, photography, computers, surgery - even neurophysiology.

This is how Hubel describes himself in a bio he wrote for the Nobel Prize committee, after winning the 1981 Nobel Prize (shared jointly with others) for his research and discoveries on the visual cortex.

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