Edgar Adrian

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The Lord Adrian

Edgar Douglas Adrian nobel.jpg
49th President of the Royal Society
In office
Preceded by Sir Robert Robinson
Succeeded by Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
Personal details
Born(1889-11-30)30 November 1889
Hampstead, London, England
Died4 August 1977(1977-08-04) (aged 87)
Cambridge, England
NationalityUnited Kingdom
Spouse(s) Hester Adrian (m. 1923)
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
Awards Fellow of the Royal Society [1]
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1932
Royal Medal (1934)
Copley Medal (1946)
Albert Medal (1953)
Scientific career
Fields Biology (electrophysiology)
Institutions University of Cambridge

Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian OM PRS (30 November 1889 – 4 August 1977) [2] [3] was an English electrophysiologist and recipient of the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology, won jointly with Sir Charles Sherrington for work on the function of neurons. He provided experimental evidence for the all-or-none law of nerves. [1] [4]



Adrian was born in Hampstead, London, the youngest son of Alfred Douglas Adrian, legal adviser to the Local Government Board, and Flora Lavinia Barton. [5]

He was educated at Westminster School and then studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1911. In 1913 he was elected to a fellowship of Trinity College on account of his research into the "all or none" law of nerves.

After completing a medical degree (MB BCh) in 1915, he undertook clinical work at St Bartholomew's Hospital London during World War I, treating soldiers with nerve damage and nervous disorders such as shell shock. Adrian returned to Cambridge as a lecturer gaining his doctorate (MD) in 1919 and in 1925 began research on the human sensory organs by electrical methods.


Continuing earlier studies of Keith Lucas, he used a capillary electrometer and cathode ray tube to amplify the signals produced by the nervous system and was able to record the electrical discharge of single nerve fibres under physical stimulus. (It seems he used frogs in his experiments [6] ) An accidental discovery by Adrian in 1928 proved the presence of electricity within nerve cells. Adrian said,

I had arranged electrodes on the optic nerve of a toad in connection with some experiments on the retina. The room was nearly dark and I was puzzled to hear repeated noises in the loudspeaker attached to the amplifier, noises indicating that a great deal of impulse activity was going on. It was not until I compared the noises with my own movements around the room that I realised I was in the field of vision of the toad's eye and that it was signalling what I was doing.

A key result, published in 1928, stated that the excitation of the skin under constant stimulus is initially strong but gradually decreases over time, whereas the sensory impulses passing along the nerves from the point of contact are constant in strength, yet are reduced in frequency over time, and the sensation in the brain diminishes as a result.

Extending these results to the study of pain causes by the stimulus of the nervous system, he made discoveries about the reception of such signals in the brain and spatial distribution of the sensory areas of the cerebral cortex in different animals. These conclusions lead to the idea of a sensory map, called the homunculus, in the somatosensory system.

Later, Adrian used the electroencephalogram to study the electrical activity of the brain in humans. His work on the abnormalities of the Berger rhythm paved the way for subsequent investigation in epilepsy and other cerebral pathologies. He spent the last portion of his research career investigating olfaction.

Positions that he held during his career included Foulerton Professor 1929–1937; Professor of Physiology in the University of Cambridge 1937–1951; President of the Royal Society 1950–1955; Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1951–1965; president of the Royal Society of Medicine 1960–1962; Chancellor of the University of Cambridge 1967–1975; Chancellor of the University of Leicester 1957–1971. Adrian was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1938. [7] In 1946 he became foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. [8] In 1942 he was awarded membership to the Order of Merit and in 1955 was created Baron Adrian, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge.

He died in Cambridge and was given the honour of being buried in Trinity College, Cambridge. [9]


On 14 June 1923 Edgar Adrian married Hester Agnes Pinsent, who was the daughter of Ellen Pinsent and sister of David Pinsent. Together they had three children, first a daughter and then mixed twins:

- Adrian Keynes (1946–1974)
- Randal Keynes (*1948)
- Roger Keynes (*1951) and
- Simon Keynes (*1952)
The couple had no children.
Further family details unknown. [10] [11]



Coat of arms of Edgar Adrian
Adrian Achievement.png
The astronomical sign of Mercury Or between two roses Gules barbed and seeded Proper.
Vert three estoiles Argent on a chief Argent a lion passant Sable.
On either side a lion Sable semee of pentacles Or.
Non Tempere Credere [12]

Related Research Articles

Nerve Enclosed, cable-like bundle of axons in the peripheral nervous system

A nerve is an enclosed, cable-like bundle of nerve fibers called axons, in the peripheral nervous system. A nerve transmits electrical impulses and is the basic unit of the peripheral nervous system. A nerve provides a common pathway for the electrochemical nerve impulses called action potentials that are transmitted along each of the axons to peripheral organs or, in the case of sensory nerves, from the periphery back to the central nervous system. Each axon within the nerve is an extension of an individual neuron, along with other supportive cells such as some Schwann cells that coat the axons in myelin.

Nervous system Highly complex part of an animal that coordinates actions and sensory information by transmitting signals between different parts of the body

In biology, the nervous system is a highly complex part of an animal that coordinates its actions and sensory information by transmitting signals to and from different parts of its body. The nervous system detects environmental changes that impact the body, then works in tandem with the endocrine system to respond to such events. Nervous tissue first arose in wormlike organisms about 550 to 600 million years ago. In vertebrates it consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists mainly of nerves, which are enclosed bundles of the long fibers or axons, that connect the CNS to every other part of the body. Nerves that transmit signals from the brain are called motor nerves or efferent nerves, while those nerves that transmit information from the body to the CNS are called sensory nerves or afferent. Spinal nerves are mixed nerves that serve both functions. The PNS is divided into three separate subsystems, the somatic, autonomic, and enteric nervous systems. Somatic nerves mediate voluntary movement. The autonomic nervous system is further subdivided into the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is activated in cases of emergencies to mobilize energy, while the parasympathetic nervous system is activated when organisms are in a relaxed state. The enteric nervous system functions to control the gastrointestinal system. Both autonomic and enteric nervous systems function involuntarily. Nerves that exit from the cranium are called cranial nerves while those exiting from the spinal cord are called spinal nerves.

Andrew Huxley

Sir Andrew Fielding Huxley was an English physiologist and biophysicist. He was born into the prominent Huxley family. After graduating from Westminster School in Central London, from where he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, he joined Alan Lloyd Hodgkin to study nerve impulses. Their eventual discovery of the basis for propagation of nerve impulses earned them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963. They made their discovery from the giant axon of the Atlantic squid. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, Huxley was recruited by the British Anti-Aircraft Command and later transferred to the Admiralty. After the war he resumed research at The University of Cambridge, where he developed interference microscopy that would be suitable for studying muscle fibres.

An evoked potential or evoked response is an electrical potential in a specific pattern recorded from a specific part of the nervous system, especially the brain, of a human or other animals following presentation of a stimulus such as a light flash or a pure tone. Different types of potentials result from stimuli of different modalities and types. EP is distinct from spontaneous potentials as detected by electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG), or other electrophysiologic recording method. Such potentials are useful for electrodiagnosis and monitoring that include detections of disease and drug-related sensory dysfunction and intraoperative monitoring of sensory pathway integrity.

Parasympathetic nervous system A division of the autonomic nervous system

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Olfactory nerve

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Afferent nerve fiber Axonal projections that arrive at a particular brain region

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The law of specific nerve energies, first proposed by Johannes Peter Müller in 1835, is that the nature of perception is defined by the pathway over which the sensory information is carried. Hence, the origin of the sensation is not important. Therefore, the difference in perception of seeing, hearing, and touch are not caused by differences in the stimuli themselves but by the different nervous structures that these stimuli excite. For example, pressing on the eye elicits sensations of flashes of light because the neurons in the retina send a signal to the occipital lobe. Despite the sensory input's being mechanical, the experience is visual.

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Richard Adrian, 2nd Baron Adrian

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From the ancient Egyptian mummifications to 18th-century scientific research on "globules" and neurons, there is evidence of neuroscience practice throughout the early periods of history. The early civilizations lacked adequate means to obtain knowledge about the human brain. Their assumptions about the inner workings of the mind, therefore, were not accurate. Early views on the function of the brain regarded it to be a form of "cranial stuffing" of sorts. In ancient Egypt, from the late Middle Kingdom onwards, in preparation for mummification, the brain was regularly removed, for it was the heart that was assumed to be the seat of intelligence. According to Herodotus, during the first step of mummification: "The most perfect practice is to extract as much of the brain as possible with an iron hook, and what the hook cannot reach is mixed with drugs." Over the next five thousand years, this view came to be reversed; the brain is now known to be the seat of intelligence, although colloquial variations of the former remain as in "memorizing something by heart".

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  1. 1 2 Hodgkin, Alan (1979). "Edgar Douglas Adrian, Baron Adrian of Cambridge. 30 November 1889 – 4 August 1977". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society . 25: 1–73. doi: 10.1098/rsbm.1979.0002 . PMID   11615790.
  2. GRO Register of Births: DEC 1889 1a 650 HAMPSTEAD – Edgar Douglas Adrian
  3. GRO Register of Deaths: SEP 1977 9 0656 CAMBRIDGE – Edgar Douglas Adrian, DoB = 30 November 1889
  4. Raymond J. Corsini (2002). The Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press. pp. 1119–. ISBN   978-1-58391-328-4 . Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  5. https://www.rse.org.uk/cms/files/fellows/biographical_index/fells_indexp1.pdf
  6. "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1932".
  7. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  8. "Lord Edgar Douglas Adrian (1889–1977)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  9. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21629/edgar-douglas-adrian
  10. Peter Townend, ed., Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 105th edition (London, U.K.: Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1970), page 27.
  11. Ian Glynn. "Richard Darwin Keynes" . Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  12. Burke's Peerage. 1959.
Academic offices
Preceded by
George Macaulay Trevelyan
31st Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
New office1st Chancellor of the University of Leicester
Succeeded by
Alan Lloyd Hodgkin
Preceded by
The Lord Tedder
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
The Duke of Edinburgh
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
Robert Robinson
49th President of the Royal Society
Succeeded by
Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Adrian
Succeeded by
Richard Adrian