Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alexis Carrel

Alexis Carrel was born on June 28, 1873 in Lyons, France. His father, also named Alexis, was a businessman who died when Carrel was still young. Carrel was educated by his mother, Anne Richard, and he attended St. Joseph School in Lyons. Carrel attended the University of Lyons, earning a bachelor of letters in 1889, a bachelor of science in 1890, and a medical doctorate in 1900. While working on his doctorate using experimental animals Carrel developed methods for repairing small blood vessels using sewing techniques and tools taken from haberdashers. Carrel was also interested in organ transplantation and in 1902 he removed a dog's kidney and reattached it to a blood vessel and vein in the dog's neck. Although the kidney immediately began producing urine the dog died days later of an infection. After finishing his doctorate Carrel worked at Lyons Hospital and taught anatomy and surgery at the University of Lyons.

In 1903 Carrel traveled by train to Lourdes, France and while on the way he examined a young woman suffering from tuberculosis peritonitis. The unconscious woman had a fever with a rapid pulse and respiration and a distended abdomen. Carrel believed the woman was on the verge of death. Her companions poured water from the spring in Lourdes, which is reputed to have miraculous properties, on her abdomen and she appeared to recover. When he examined her later her abdomen was flat and she seemed to have recovered. Later when Carrel returned to Lyons he reported the apparent miracle to his colleagues for which he was criticized and told that he would not be able to pass the examinations required to join the faculty. In 1904 Carrel left France first stopping in French speaking Montreal. He later moved to Chicago where in 1905 where he began working at the University of Chicago with Charles Guthrie.

In 1906 Carrel took a research position at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research,where he would remain until his retirement in 1939. Although he lived the rest of his life in the United States, Carrel never became a citizen and during World War I he served as a major in the French Medical Corps. In 1912 Carrel began an experiment where he took embryonic chicken heart cells and kept them alive in a Pyrex container of his own design. The cells lived for over twenty years with changing of the nutrient broth they lived in, living longer than the normal lifespan of a chicken. Carrel believed that cells could be kept alive and would divide indefinitely if they were given proper nutrients. Later it was found somatic (non-embryonic) cells have a limited number of divisions before they will stop dividing. Carrel's cell culture techniques were later used by others to do viral research and develop vaccines.

In 1935 Carrel published a book called Man, the Unknown, which argued in part that humanity should be governed by an elite group of intellectuals and that a program of eugenic breeding would benefit humanity. In a 1936 German edition he added a preface that praised the eugenic program advocated by the Nazi regime.

Carrel was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1912, "In recognition for his work on vascular structure and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs." Other honors won by Carrel include a Swedish stamp honoring Nobel Prize winners in 1972 and a crater on the moon was named after him in 1979.

Carrel died on November 5, 1945 in Paris, France.


McMurray, Emily J., Editor, "Alexis Carrel" in Notable Scientists of the Twentieth Century; Gale Group; 1995; Retrieved from

Sade, Robert M.; "Transplantation at 100 Years; Alexis Carrel, Pioneer Surgeon"; Annals of Thoracic Surgery (2005)80:2415-8

Alexis Carrel Nobel Biography

Alexis Carrel Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Martin Swarzchild

Martin Swarzchild was born on May 31, 1912 in Potsdam, Germany to a German-Jewish family. His father, Karl, was the director of the Postdam observatory, which having been visited by Albert Einstein in 1913, was being outfitted to make oberservations to verify his general theory of relativity when World War I broke out. Karl enlisted in the German army and while he served in the German trenches on the eastern front he solved Einstein's equations for a point mass, we now call a black hole, and the distance of the event horizon above a non-rotating black hole is called the Swarzchild Radius. The even horizon of a black hole is the distance away from which nothing, not  even light can escape. Karl died in 1916 of pemphigus an autoimmune skin disease.

After his father's death his mother took Schwarzchild to Gottingen, Germany where he attended gymnasium school. Swarzchild attended Gottingen University first studying mathematics for a year, after which he went to Berlin University where he studied astronomy, after which he returned to Gottingen University where he finished his doctorate in astronomy in 1835. Because of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Swarzchild took a fellowship in Oslo, Norway and after a month in England he emigrated to the united states in 1937, becoming a citizen in 1942. Swarzchild served in the United States Army Intelligence, earning the Legion of Merit and a Bronze Star. After fellowship at Harvard University and a lectureship at Columbia University, Swarzchild was appointed to a full professorship at Princeton University in 1947. He became the Higgins Professor of Astronomy in 1951.

Swarzchild's early research dealt with calibrating the size of the universe and determining its rate of expansion. He observed variable stars that were used as distance markers in determining the rate of the universe's expansion. He also researched stellar evolution (the life cycles of stars) and his text Structure and Evolution of Stars (1958) was a classic text on  the subject. He used early computers to work on astronomical problems. Using a balloon borne telescope Swarzchild was the first to observe the photoshphere (the outer layer) of the sun and the Andromeda Galaxy without atmospheric interference, demonstrating the potential for this type of observations now done by the Hubble Telescope.

Swarzchild retired in 1979 although he continued to work on galactic classification. In his life Swarzchild received numerous awards, including the Bruce Medal (1965), Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1969), and the National Medal of Science (1997).

Swarzchild died on April 10, 1997.


Ostriker, Jeramiah; "Martin Swarzchild: April 31, 1912 - April 10, 1997": in Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science; 2013; National Academy Press

"Martin Swarzchild"; Physics Today (1997)35:12:90-91\

Martin Swarzchild Wikipedia Entry