Neuroscience circa 1960

My story about the effort to make some sense of the human brain begins in 1960, not long after I arrived in Boston to begin my first year at Harvard Medical School. Within a few months, I began learning the foundations of brain science (as it was then understood) from a remarkable group of individuals who had themselves only recently arrived at Harvard and were mostly not much older than me.

The senior member of the contingent was Stephen Kuffler, then in his early 50s and already a central figure in twentieth-century neuroscience. Otto Krayer, the head of the Department of Pharmacology at the medical school, had recruited Kuffler to Harvard from Johns Hopkins only a year earlier. Kuffler's mandate was to form a new group in Pharmacology by hiring faculty whose interests spanned the physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry of the nervous system. Until then, Harvard had been teaching neural function as part of physiology, brain structure as a component of traditional anatomy, and brain chemistry as aspects of pharmacology and biochemistry.

Kuffler had presciently promoted to faculty status two postdoctoral fellows who had been working with him at Hopkins: David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, then 34 and 36, respectively. He'd also hired David Potter and Ed Furshpan, two even younger neuroscientists who had recently finished fellowships in Bernard Katz's lab at University College London. The last of his initial recruits was Ed Kravitz, who, at 31, had just received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Michigan. This group (Figure 1.1) became the Department of Neurobiology in 1966, which soon became a standard departmental category in U.S. medical schools as the field burgeoned both intellectually and as a magnet for research fands. In the neuroscience course medical students took during my first year, Furshpan and Potter taught us how nerve cell signaling worked, Kravitz taught us neurochemistry, and Hubel and Wiesel taught us about the organization of the brain (or, at least, the visual part of it, which was their bailiwick). Kuffler gave a pro forma lecture or two, but this sort of presentation was not his strong suit, and he had the good sense and self-confidence to let these excellent teachers carry the load.

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