Washington University School of Medicine Oral History Project Washington University School of Medicine Bernard Becker Medical Library
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Francis Otto Schmitt

Interviewer: Paul G. Anderson Francis Otto Schmitt
Date: June 7, 1982
Identifier: OH055
Approximate Length: 93 min.
Biographical Information: Molecular biologist (1903-1995). Schmitt received his bachelor’s degree in 1924 and his Ph.D. in physiology in 1927 from Washington University. He served on the faculty of the university’s Zoology department from 1929 to 1941, when he was recruited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to head its microbiology department and where he established the first U.S. center for electron microscopy. In 1962 Schmitt established the Neurosciences Research Program at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Summary: Schmitt discusses his early interest in science and his decision to study physiology with Joseph Erlanger. He talks of his teachers and colleagues at Washington University, including Evarts A. Graham, Helen Tredway Graham, Herbert Gasser, George Bishop, Philip A. Shaffer, Carl Cori, and Viktor Hamburger. Schmitt describes Erlanger and Gasser’s research on action potentials that led to their receiving the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. There is also discussion of some of Schmitt’s research on kidney function with Harvey Lester White, his research on the excitability of heart muscle, and polarization optics.

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