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Galvani’s SparkThe Story of the Nerve Impulse$
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Alan McComas

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199751754

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199751754.001.0001

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The Cathode Ray Oscilloscope

The Cathode Ray Oscilloscope

(p.75) 6 The Cathode Ray Oscilloscope
Galvani’s Spark

Alan J. McComas

Oxford University Press

Joseph Erlanger becomes the first head of the Physiology Department at Washington University, St Louis, and appoints Herbert Gasser to his staff. Together they attempt to record nerve impulses, after valve amplification, with a cathode ray tube, and eventually succeed. Several deflections are seen in the nerve responses to electrical stimulation and these are assumed to represent activity in groups of fibres with different functions. They find that the form of the nerve response (compound action potential) can be reconstructed if the numbers and diameters of the fibres are known. George Bishop, who is a colleague in this early work, is banished from the department for publishing a report on the C (unmyelinated) fibres without consulting Erlanger. Meanwhile Gasser, having been appointed head of the Pharmacology Department, leaves for a tour of European centres and later bccomes Director of the Rockefeller Institute in New York. Bishop and Erlanger continue their separate ways in St Louis.

Keywords:   Joseph Erlanger, Herbert Gasser, George Bishop, valve amplifier, cathode ray oscilloscope, Washington University

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