Saturday, July 21, 2012

Andrew Huxley

A few weeks ago, science lost one of its greats . . . Andrew Fielding Huxley. 

As explained in my textbooks, "The British physiologist Andrew F. Huxley (born 1917) is  largely responsible for explaining how muscle fibers contract. After making pioneering discoveries in how nerves conduct impulses, a feat for which he shared the 1963 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, Huxley turned his attention to muscle fibers. It was he who in the 1950s proposed the sliding filament model, along with its mechanical explanation of muscle contraction."

Sometimes, our students don't fully appreciate that much of what we know about basic functions of the body have been discovered only within the last few decades.  They may not realize that people alive during their lifetimes were the ones who discovered central concepts of human structure and function, such as how nerves conduct action potentials and how muscle fibers contract.

The reason I include stories of Huxley and others in both my A&P textbooks and in my classroom discussions is that I think the story of science is important in gaining deep understanding of the concepts learned in A&P.  Learning "just the facts" devoid of their context and without any understanding of how we learned what we know does not give our students what they need to navigate the ongoing evolution of our scientific understanding of human A&P.

I also like to include stories of the people who helped shape our current understanding of the body's structure and function because it reveals the diversity of backgrounds, approaches, ethnic/national origins, gender, and age of the folks who have made striking discoveries and provided critical insights. I think that helps students understand that they, too, can play a role in the progress of science.

If you want to brush up on Huxley's role in the progress of science--so that you can perhaps drop it during your classroom discussions of nerve impulses and muscle contraction--check out the resources I have provided.

Want to know more?
Sir Andrew Huxley obituary: He shared the Nobel prize for unravelling the mechanism of the nerve impulse
Anthony Tucker, Thursday 31 May 2012 13.05 EDT
[Nice article summarizing the life and contributions of A. Huxley]   

Andrew Huxley, Nobel-Winning Physiologist, Dies at 94
New York Times (online) June 4, 2012

[Another comprehensive obituary of Huxley]
Click here for a photo you can use in your course.

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