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Francis O. Schmitt: At the Intersection of Neuroscience and Squid

Francis O. Schmitt: At the Intersection of Neuroscience and Squid

Chapter:
(p.187) Eight Francis O. Schmitt: At the Intersection of Neuroscience and Squid
Source:
Why Study Biology by the Sea?
Author(s):
Kathryn Maxson Jones
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226673097.003.0009

This chapter explores the career of neuroscientist Francis O. Schmitt (1903-1995): how his experimental research relied on marine organisms and marine laboratories, and more generally how this earlier phase in his career related to his foundation of the Neurosciences Research Program at MIT from 1962 to 1963. From the 1930s through the 1950s, a network of marine stations, especially the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, offered brick-and-mortar places where Schmitt and his colleagues could adopt new experimental systems for studying action potentials. Working from these labs, Schmitt and his colleagues could obtain their choice experimental organisms, squid, which in turn supplied the materials necessary for their work: the abnormally large axons of squid neurons. More theoretically, Schmitt’s research with squid required and facilitated comparative studies, expanding physiologists’ understandings of the varieties of neurons existing in the natural world. Placed into historical context, moreover, Schmitt’s story demonstrates how other neurophysiologists of his era approached such diversity differently than he did, and how finding unifying principles, including amongst the multiplicity of neurons in marine organisms, has always challenged neurobiologists.

Keywords:   squid, Francis Schmitt, Neurosciences Research Program, Marine Biological Laboratory

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