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Harvard Fatigue Laboratory influential in promoting exercise physiology research

This is an excerpt from History of Exercise Physiology by Charles Tipton.

Despite its brief history (1927-1947), no physiology laboratory in America is more revered than the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory. Described as "the first laboratory for the comprehensive study of man" (5), it was perhaps more influential and effective in promoting scientific and collaborative research in exercise physiology (76). This chapter discusses the laboratory's contributions to the study of the acute and chronic effects of exercise and to the effects of altitude and temperature on the exercise response. This chapter includes information from the laboratory's extensive published record as well as from the perspective of the last surviving member of its faculty and staff (figure 3.1) (41).

G. Edgar Folk (1914-) of the University of Iowa in the United States who became a staff member of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory in 1943. Folk remained at the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory until its closure in 1947. He subsequently spent six yr at Bowdoin College in Maine conducting research and teaching biology to undergraduate students. In 1953, he accepted an appointment in the department of physiology at the University of Iowa. Professor Folk continues to attend APS meetings, write manuscripts, and enjoy life as an elder statesman for physiology.

Harvard University (1920-1927)

In 1920, physiology at Harvard University was represented by four departments: physiology, comparative physiology, applied physiology, and physical chemistry. These departments were collectively known as the laboratories of physiology(53). Three years later, the department of industrial hygiene was transferred from the medical school to the recently established school of public health, facilitated by the efforts of Roger Lee (53). Subsequently, the department of industrial hygiene was renamed the department of applied physiology. At this time, Walter B. Cannon (1871-1945) was chairman of the department of physiology, David Edsall was dean of both the medical school and the school of public health, Lawrence Joseph Henderson (1888-1984) was director of the department of physical chemistry (figure 3.2), Wallace B. Donham was dean of the business school, and A. Laurence Lowell was president of the university (53). Also at this time, Dr. Arlie V. Bock was establishing a laboratory in Massachusetts General Hospital after being a physician in World War I, a Moseley Traveling Fellow in Sir Joseph Barcroft's laboratory for two years learning exercise protocols and blood-equilibration techniques, and after being a participant in Barcroft's high-altitude expedition in Peru (23) (figure 3.2).

David Bruce Dill (1891-1986) received his PhD in chemistry in 1925 from Stanford University and accepted a 2 yr National Research Council fellowship to work in the laboratory of L.J. Henderson to study the physical chemistry of proteins. However, after his arrival at Harvard, he was assigned to a Massachusetts General Hospital laboratory, where the senior staff physician was Dr. John H. Talbott. There he was reassigned to study with Dr. Bock the physiochemical properties of blood (46). When the fellowship was terminated, Dill was appointed as assistant professor of biochemistry in the school of public health, a position he retained until 1936. In addition, from 1927 to 1947, he held a professorship in the department of industrial hygiene at Harvard University (72). Although during his tenure at Harvard Henderson remained as director of the laboratory, it was Dill's leadership, organizational ability, and scientific insights that made the laboratory famous throughout the world. Between 1947 and 1961, Dill served as director of research for the U.S. Army Chemical Research and Development Laboratory. During this interval, he became president of the American Physiological Society (1950-1951) and later (1960-1961) was elected president of the American College of Sports Medicine (45, 74).

Henderson and the Establishment of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory

Henderson, a recipient of an MD from Harvard in 1902, was professor of biological chemistry from 1919 until 1934 and the Abbot and James Lawrence professor of chemistry from 1934 until his death in 1942 (18) (figure 3.2). Besides chemistry and biology, Henderson had broad interests in sociology, psychology, anthropology, and the philosophy of Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer and socialist (18, 46). He and Elton Mayo (a professor of industrial hygiene who, like Henderson, believed that workers should be studied in the workplace) developed the concept of establishing a laboratory to conduct research on industrial hazards (46). Such a laboratory would study the "group psychology, the social problems, and physiology of fatigue of normal man . . . not only as individual factors in determining physical and mental health, but more especially to determine their interrelatedness and the effect upon work" (46, p. 20).

With leadership from Henderson, the support of advisory and planning committees that included most of the previously mentioned deans and professors, the endorsement of President Lowell, and funding from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory was established in 1927 with Lawrence Joseph Henderson as its official director (46). According to Chapman, the term fatigue was selected because all parties believed it was important. However, because they could not agree on a definition, it did not force research activities into a specific departmental shape(19, p. 19). Its home was in the basement of Harvard Business School.

As noted, Dill was designated (although never officially appointed) to organize and direct the research program of the laboratory and quickly assumed the duties and responsibilities of Henderson. Hence, his curriculum vitae in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California in the United States lists him as the informal director of the laboratory between 1927 and 1946 (72). The Horvaths identified the senior members of the laboratory from 1927 to before World War II as Henderson, Dill, Bock, and Talbott (figure 3.2) (46).

Contributions to Undergraduate and Graduate Student Education

Although the education of undergraduate and graduate students was not a purpose for establishing the laboratory, the laboratory did provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to be introduced to research and become involved with projects that all pertained to physiology and sometimes to exercise physiology. Although the laboratory offered no courses or degrees, it offered opportunities for students to conduct senior theses under the supervision of select faculty members. Twelve undergraduates were involved in activities of the laboratory. Henry Taylor became a renowned exercise physiologist at the University of Minnesota in the United States (figure 3.4). Richard Riley was recognized as an outstanding respiratory physiologist at Johns Hopkins University, and John Pappenheimer and Clifford Barger received acclaim as physiologists on the faculty of Harvard University (46). Sid Robinson and Steven Horvath (figures 3.5 and 3.6) conducted research for their PhD dissertations in the laboratory but received their degrees in biological sciences. Dill served as chairman of Robinson's committee but was unable to do so for Horvath because Horvath had married Dill's daughter (73). G. Edgar Folk Jr. received an MA from Harvard University in 1937 and served as a research associate in the laboratory from 1943 to 1947 (figure 3.1). In 1947, he received a PhD in the biological sciences with John Welch as his advisor (74). Additionally, Pappenheimer, Robinson, and Horvath served along with 13 other staff members as tutors for students in biochemistry (46).

Read more from History of Exercise Physiology by Charles M. Tipton, PhD.

More Excerpts From History of Exercise Physiology