Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin

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Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin


English Biophysicist and Physiologist

Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin was an English biophysicist and physiologist who was awarded the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Andrew Huxley (1917- ) for their pioneering research in the electrical and chemical events involved with nerve cell impulses. They shared their prize with Sir John Eccles (1903-1997). Their use of the "squid giant axon" to explain nerve behavior provided needed information that demonstrated the precise inner workings of nerve cells. He was knighted for his scientific efforts in 1972.

Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin was born on February 5, 1914, in Oxfordshire, England. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge (1932-1936). While at Trinity College, Hodgkin contemplated studying history because of family tradition, but because of his passion for science, he chose to concentrate on biology and chemistry instead. When he began his studies, he was advised to learn as much mathematics and physics as he possibly could so that he could reach his fullest scientific potential. This recommendation proved to be extremely valuable to Hodgkin throughout his life as he excelled in all areas of science.

Another aspect of his education that proved to be extremely valuable was the significant number of eminent professors he studied under at Trinity College. Many had a significant impact on his work and molded his early thinking and training. In fact, it was the famous physiologist A. V. Hill (1886-1977) who chaired his thesis work and helped him get his first research position in the United States. Hodgkin spent two years at the Rockefeller Institute in New York(1937-1938) and during this time, he was introduced to the technique of dissecting a large squid nerve for scientific study. He later returned to Cambridge with the intent of using this technique as a research model, but before he could begin in earnest with a student of his, Andrew Huxley, World War II pulled him away.

During the war, Hodgkin worked primarily in the areas of aviation medicine and radar research for the British Air Ministry (1939-1945). He returned to a teaching post at Cambridge after the war to continue his association with Huxley. They were primarily interested in the ionic mechanisms in living cells. Hodgkin's research efforts were helped by a reduction in teaching load and monetary grants. His most significant contribution to the field consisted of measuring the electrical and chemical activity on squid nerve fibers (Loligo forbesi). Hodgkin and Huxley used microelectrodes to show that the electrical voltage within a nerve fiber during a nerve impulse exceeds the electrical voltage of that fiber at rest. This idea went against conventional theory at the time, which postulated that the cell membrane actually broke down during an impulse. They further reported in 1947 that the activity of a nerve fiber is dependent upon the concentrations of certain chemicals both inside and outside of the nerve cell. This work provided specific experimental data on the mechanisms of nerve conduction, and it was because of these experiments that they won their Noble Prize.

Hodgkin married Marion Rous, daughter of distinguished American pathologist Peyton Rous (1879-1970), in 1944 during a brief visit to the United States near the end of World War II. Hodgkin had previously met his wife while at the Rockefeller Institute in 1938.

Professor Hodgkin's distinguished career included election into the Royal Society. He served on many of the councils that set policy for the Royal Society throughout his life and was elected president in 1970. He also accepted the position of Chancellor at Leicester University in 1971. During his esteemed career, he received numerous commendations and honorary awards. Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin died on December 20, 1998, at age 84.