Post #013: A precious gift

Glasgow, November 30, 2017

Working for Professor Tilli Tansey has been a defining experience not only for my “career” [1] perspective, but also for the way I appreciate and communicate the details of the history of academic and industrial research. During the last days of our work at Queen Mary University of London, Professor Tansey invited me to her office and handed me a precious gift: a book that treasures a wonderful story – especially for those with an interest in the history of Neuroscience as a discipline – as well as three handwritten notes (each on letterheaded paper).

That 100-year-old book (published in 1917) was entitled “The Conduction of the Nervous Impulse” and was part of the “Monographs on Physiology” series of Longmans, Green and Co. [2]. The book was written by Keith Lucas [3], and was revised by E. D. Adrian [4]; both of Trinity College, Cambridge. It was a relatively small book – both in size and pagination [5] – that presented (posthumously) the results of the experimental work of Lucas resulting into the determination of the temperature coefficient of nerve conduction, and a detailed account of the nature of the nervous impulse and its propagation. What made that book even more precious was the fact that it has been previously owned by prominent figures of biomedical science, and has been treated as an artefact. The three accompanying notes and a list of names on its flyleaf synthesize an informative and “genealogical” story that spans from the scientific legacy of Keith Lucas and his tragic death during World War I, to the completion of the “Makers of modern biomedicine: testimonies and legacy” project in 2017.

The book originally belonged to G. L. Brown [6]. After Brown’s death (1971), his widow has given the book to Bill Paton [7], who then handed it to Tony Angel [8] along with an explanatory (“thank you”) note, fifteen years later (1986). Professor Angel gave the book to Professor Tansey in 2003, along with a shorter note presenting the book as a “piece of Physiological Society memorabilia”. Fourteen years later (2017) the book has been handed to me with a very kind (“thank you”) note by Professor Tansey, characterising it as “a scientific heirloom, which has been passed on through four generations of physiologists”.

Beyond the profound honour of being considered as a worthy owner (or, more appropriately, temporary keeper) of such an extraordinary artefact, I like to also consider this precious gift as a token of my induction to the British academic life.


Notes: [1]: the word “career” is not a favourite of mine; [2]: a London-based publisher with offices in New York, Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata) and Madras (Chennai) at the time; [3]: Keith Lucas (1879-1916); [4]: Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian (1889-1977); [5]: 114 pages in total (xii+102); [6]: Sir George Lindor Brown (1903-1971); [7]: Sir William Drummond Macdonald Paton (1917-1993); [8]: Professor Anthony Angel.

Citation: Zarros A. Post #013: A precious gift. 2017; 30-Nov.