Edgar Adrian

Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian OM PRS (30 November 1889 – 4 August 1977)[2][3] was an English electrophysiologist and recipient of the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology, won jointly with Sir Charles Sherrington for work on the function of neurons. He provided experimental evidence for the all-or-none law of nerves.[1][4]

The Lord Adrian

Edgar Douglas Adrian nobel
President of the Royal Society
In office
Preceded bySir Robert Robinson
Succeeded bySir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood
Personal details
Born30 November 1889
Hampstead, London, England
Died4 August 1977 (aged 87)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
NationalityUnited Kingdom
Spouse(s)Hester Adrian (m. 1923)
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society[1]
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1932
Royal Medal (1934)
Copley Medal (1946)
Albert Medal (1953)
Scientific career
FieldsBiology (electrophysiology)


Adrian was born at Hampstead, London, to Alfred Douglas Adrian, legal adviser to the Local Government Board, and Flora Lavinia Barton.[5] He attended Westminster School and studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1911, and in 1913 he was elected to a fellowship of Trinity College on account of his research into the "all or none" law of nerves.

After completing a medical degree in 1915, he did clinical work at St Bartholomew's Hospital London during World War I, treating soldiers with nerve damage and nervous disorders such as shell shock. Adrian returned to Cambridge as a lecturer and in 1925 began research on the human sensory organs by electrical methods.

Adrian married Hester Agnes Pinsent on 14 June 1923 and they had three offspring – a daughter and mixed twins:


Continuing earlier studies of Keith Lucas, he used a capillary electrometer and cathode ray tube to amplify the signals produced by the nervous system and was able to record the electrical discharge of single nerve fibres under physical stimulus. (It seems he used frogs in his experiments[7]) An accidental discovery by Adrian in 1928 proved the presence of electricity within nerve cells. Adrian said,

I had arranged electrodes on the optic nerve of a toad in connection with some experiments on the retina. The room was nearly dark and I was puzzled to hear repeated noises in the loudspeaker attached to the amplifier, noises indicating that a great deal of impulse activity was going on. It was not until I compared the noises with my own movements around the room that I realised I was in the field of vision of the toad's eye and that it was signalling what I was doing.

A key result, published in 1928, stated that the excitation of the skin under constant stimulus is initially strong but gradually decreases over time, whereas the sensory impulses passing along the nerves from the point of contact are constant in strength, yet are reduced in frequency over time, and the sensation in the brain diminishes as a result.

Extending these results to the study of pain causes by the stimulus of the nervous system, he made discoveries about the reception of such signals in the brain and spatial distribution of the sensory areas of the cerebral cortex in different animals. These conclusions lead to the idea of a sensory map, called the homunculus, in the somatosensory system.

Later, Adrian used the electroencephalogram to study the electrical activity of the brain in humans. His work on the abnormalities of the Berger rhythm paved the way for subsequent investigation in epilepsy and other cerebral pathologies. He spent the last portion of his research career investigating olfaction.

Positions that he held during his career included Foulerton Professor 1929–1937; Professor of Physiology in the University of Cambridge 1937–1951; President of the Royal Society 1950–1955; Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1951–1965; president of the Royal Society of Medicine 1960–1962; Chancellor of the University of Cambridge 1967–1975; Chancellor of the University of Leicester 1957–1971. Adrian was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1938.[8] In 1946 he became foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[9] In 1942 he was awarded membership to the Order of Merit and in 1955 was created Baron Adrian, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge.


  • The Basis of Sensation (1928)
  • The Mechanism of Nervous Action (1932)
  • Factors Determining Human Behavior (1937)


  1. ^ a b Hodgkin, Alan (1979). "Edgar Douglas Adrian, Baron Adrian of Cambridge. 30 November 1889 – 4 August 1977". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 25: 1–73. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1979.0002. PMID 11615790.
  2. ^ GRO Register of Births: DEC 1889 1a 650 HAMPSTEAD – Edgar Douglas Adrian
  3. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: SEP 1977 9 0656 CAMBRIDGE – Edgar Douglas Adrian, DoB = 30 November 1889
  4. ^ Raymond J. Corsini (2002). The Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press. pp. 1119–. ISBN 978-1-58391-328-4. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  5. ^ thePeerage.com – Person Page 4412
  6. ^ Peter Townend, ed., Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 105th edition (London, U.K.: Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1970), page 27.
  7. ^ https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1932/adrian/biographical
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  9. ^ "Lord Edgar Douglas Adrian (1889–1977)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2 August 2015.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
George Macaulay Trevelyan
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
Preceded by
New position
Chancellor of the University of Leicester
Succeeded by
Alan Lloyd Hodgkin
Preceded by
The Lord Tedder
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Adrian
Succeeded by
Richard Adrian
Adrian (surname)

Adrian is a surname derived from the Latin personal name Adrianus. Notable people with the surname include:

Barbara Adrian (1931–2014), American artist

Chris Adrian (born 1970), American author

Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian (1889–1977), British electrophysiologist and recipient of the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology

Iris Adrian (1912–1994), American actress

Max Adrian (1903–1973), Northern Irish stage, film and television actor and singer

Nathan Adrian (born 1988), American swimmer and Olympic gold medalist

Phil Adrian, Canadian football player

Rhys Adrian (1928–1990), British playwright and screenwriter

Richard Adrian, 2nd Baron Adrian (1927–1995), British physiologist, only son of Edgar Adrian

Adrián (footballer) (born 1987), Spanish footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for English side West Ham United

Baron Adrian

Baron Adrian, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge, was a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 27 January 1955 for the electrophysiologist and Nobel Prize recipient Edgar Adrian. He was succeeded by his only son, the second Baron. He was Professor of cell physiology at the University of Cambridge. He was childless and the title became extinct on his death in 1995.

Brian Downs

Brian Westerdale Downs, KNO (4 July 1893 – 3 March 1984) was an English literary scholar and linguist. He served as Master of Christ's College, Cambridge from 1950 to 1963 and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1955 to 1957. From 1950 to 1960, he was the Professor of Scandinavian Studies at Cambridge.

Cai Qiao

Cai Qiao or Chiao Tsai (simplified Chinese: 蔡翘; traditional Chinese: 蔡翹; pinyin: Cài Qiào; Wade–Giles: Ts'ai Ch'iao) was a Chinese physiologist. Cai is famous for his discovery in 1920s, the ventral tegmental area, which also known as the ventral tegmental area of Tsai. He was elected as a member of Academia Sinica in 1948, also a member of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1955.

Charles Scott Sherrington

Sir Charles Scott Sherrington (27 November 1857 – 4 March 1952) was an English neurophysiologist, histologist, bacteriologist, and a pathologist, Nobel laureate and president of the Royal Society in the early 1920s. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian, in 1932 for their work on the functions of neurons. Prior to the work of Sherrington and Adrian, it was widely accepted that reflexes occurred as isolated activity within a reflex arc. Sherrington received the prize for showing that reflexes require integrated activation and demonstrated reciprocal innervation of muscles (Sherrington's law). Through his seminal 1906 publication, The Integrative Action of the Nervous System, he had effectively laid to rest the theory that the nervous system, including the brain, can be understood as a single interlinking network. His alternative explanation of synaptic communication between neurons helped shape our understanding of the central nervous system.

Daiwa Adrian Prize

This Daiwa Adrian Prize is an award given by The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, a UK charity, to scientists who have made significant achievements in science through Anglo-Japanese collaborative research. Prizes are awarded every third year and applications are handled by the foundation with an assessment conducted by a panel of Fellows of The Royal Society.

The prize was initiated 1992 by Lord Adrian (2nd Baron Adrian), a former Trustee of the Foundation. The physiologist Richard Adrian was Master of Pembroke College, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and the only son of the Nobel laureate Edgar Adrian (1st Baron Adrian).

Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge

The Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, (PDN) is a part of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Research in PDN focuses on three main areas: Cellular and Systems Physiology, Developmental and Reproductive Biology, and Neuroscience and is currently headed by Sarah Bray and William Colledge. The department was formed on 1 January 2006, within the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Cambridge from the merger of the Departments of Anatomy and Physiology. The department hosts the Centre for Trophoblast Research and has links with the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, and the Gurdon Institute.

G. M. Trevelyan

George Macaulay Trevelyan (16 February 1876 – 21 July 1962), was a British historian and academic. He was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1898 to 1903. He then spent more than twenty years as a full-time author. He returned to the University of Cambridge and was Regius Professor of History from 1927 to 1943. He served as Master of Trinity College from 1940 to 1951. In retirement, he was Chancellor of Durham University.

Trevelyan was the third son of Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, and great-nephew of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose staunch liberal Whig principles he espoused in accessible works of literate narrative avoiding a consciously dispassionate analysis, that became old-fashioned during his long and productive career. The noted historian E. H. Carr considered Trevelyan to be one of the last historians of the Whig tradition.Many of his writings promoted the Whig Party, an important aspect of British politics from the 17th century to the mid-19th century, and its successor, the Liberal Party. Whigs and Liberals believed the common people had a more positive effect on history than did royalty and that democratic government would bring about steady social progress.Trevelyan's history is engaged and partisan. Of his Garibaldi trilogy, "reeking with bias", he remarked in his essay "Bias in History", "Without bias, I should never have written them at all. For I was moved to write them by a poetical sympathy with the passions of the Italian patriots of the period, which I retrospectively shared."

Hallowell Davis

Hallowell Davis (August 31, 1896 – August 22, 1992) was an American physiologist and otolaryngologist and researcher who did pioneering work on the physiology of hearing and the inner ear. He served as director of research at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri.

Hester Adrian, Baroness Adrian

Hester Agnes Adrian, Baroness Adrian, DBE (née Pinsent; 16 September 1899 – 20 May 1966) was a British mental health worker. In 1965, the year before her death, she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her contributions.

History of neuroscience

From the ancient Egyptian mummifications to 18th century scientific research on "globules" and neurons, there is evidence of neuroscience practice throughout the early periods of history. The early civilizations lacked adequate means to obtain knowledge about the human brain. Their assumptions about the inner workings of the mind, therefore, were not accurate. Early views on the function of the brain regarded it to be a form of "cranial stuffing" of sorts. In ancient Egypt, from the late Middle Kingdom onwards, in preparation for mummification, the brain was regularly removed, for it was the heart that was assumed to be the seat of intelligence. According to Herodotus, during the first step of mummification: "The most perfect practice is to extract as much of the brain as possible with an iron hook, and what the hook cannot reach is mixed with drugs." Over the next five thousand years, this view came to be reversed; the brain is now known to be the seat of intelligence, although colloquial variations of the former remain as in "memorizing something by heart".

List of alumni of Queen Mary University of London

The following is a list of alumni of Queen Mary University of London.


Neuroethology is the evolutionary and comparative approach to the study of animal behavior and its underlying mechanistic control by the nervous system. This interdisciplinary branch of behavioral neuroscience endeavors to understand how the central nervous system translates biologically relevant stimuli into natural behavior. For example, many bats are capable of echolocation which is used for prey capture and navigation. The auditory system of bats is often cited as an example for how acoustic properties of sounds can be converted into a sensory map of behaviorally relevant features of sounds. Neuroethologists hope to uncover general principles of the nervous system from the study of animals with exaggerated or specialized behaviors.

As its name implies, neuroethology is a multidisciplinary field composed of neurobiology (the study of the nervous system) and ethology (the study of animal behavior in natural conditions). A central theme of the field of neuroethology, delineating it from other branches of neuroscience, is this focus on natural behavior, which may be thought of as those behaviors generated through means of natural selection (i.e. finding mates, navigation, locomotion, predator avoidance) rather than behaviors in disease states, or behavioral tasks that are particular to the laboratory.

Randal Keynes

Randal Hume Keynes, OBE, FLS ( KAYNZ; born 29 July 1948) is a British conservationist, author, and great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.

Richard Adrian, 2nd Baron Adrian

Richard Hume Adrian, 2nd Baron Adrian FRS (16 October 1927 – 4 April 1995) was a British peer and physiologist.

Roger Keynes

Roger John Keynes FMedSci (; born 25 February 1951) is a British medical scientist. He is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a professor within the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

Keynes is the third of four sons. His father was Richard Keynes, through whom he is a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. His mother was The Honorable Ann Pinsent Adrian, who was the daughter of Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian and his wife Hester (née Pinsent). His elder brother, Randal Keynes, is a conservationist and author, while his younger brother, Simon Keynes, is a historian and a Fellow of Trinity, as was their father, Richard. Roger Keynes is married to Yasmina Keynes and is the father of Catholic writer and apologist, Laura Keynes, Oliver Keynes and Sophia Keynes.

Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson

Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson (December 6, 1878 – May 12, 1937) was an American-born British neurologist. His research of hepatolenticular degeneration led the disease to be named after him as Wilson's disease. He was the father of British Assyriologist James Kinnier Wilson.

Sybil Cooper

Sybil Cooper (January 1900 – 1970), was a British physiologist.

Vincent Warren Low

Vincent Warren Low (1867–1942) was a British surgeon.

Recipients of the Copley Medal (1901–1950)
17th century
18th century
19th century
20th century
21st century

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