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: Francis Schmitt (1903-1995) was a molecular biologist who was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Schmitt received his bachelorís degree in 1924 from Washington University. Under the direction of Joseph Erlanger at the Washington University School of Medicine, Schmitt earned his Ph.D. in physiology in 1927. He then served on the faculty of the universityís Zoology department from 1929 to 1941 until he was recruited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to head its Biology Department. He held this position until 1955 when he became MITís second Institute Professor. While at MIT, he established the first U.S. center for electron microscopy, and in 1962, Schmitt established the Neurosciences Research Program housed at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Schmitt received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, and was a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of 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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