Sir John Carew Eccles

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963 (with Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Fielding Huxley) «for discoveries concerning ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in peripheral and central portions of nerve cell membrane».

Sir John Carew Eccles was born on 27th January 1903 in Melbourne, Victoria. He graduated from secondary Warrnambool High School. At the age of 17, he was granted a senior scholarship to study medicine at University of Melbourne. As a student of a medical school, he was greatly influenced by «Origin of Species» by Darwin and read a lot of works by physiology and philosophy. During the time of his studies, he tried to explain the interaction between mind and brain but couldn’t succeed in finding a proper explanation. This motivated him to become a neuroscientist.

In 1925 he finished his education at University of Melbourne with several first-class honors and clinical prizes. Soon after that, he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, being a Victorian Rhodes Scholar, as an undergraduate to study under Sir Charles Sherrington, who later became the co-author in 8 of Eccles’s papers. Eccles returned to Australia in 1937 and agreed to a job at Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital. While working in Kanematsu, he headed a research team studying the effect of chemical substances on the transmission of nerve impulses in muscles. In 1943 he moved to Dublin and worked at Otago Medical School as Professor of Physiology. In Dublin, Eccles got acquainted with Karl Popper, a science philosopher, who greatly influenced his research. In 1977 the two released a book – «The Self and Its Brain» – Eccles’ most cited philosophical work.

In 1952, Eccles went back to Australia and worked at John Curtin School of Medical Research (at present known as Australian National University) as foundation chair of Physiology. He considered his time at Canberra as the most productive ones. While working at ANU, his contributions on ionic mechanisms of synaptic transmission in brain earned him the Nobel Prize in 1963. He also earned international recognition for his numerous papers related to mind and brain problems. During his career, Eccles was granted numerous awards, among which are Christopher Welch Scholar, Oxford (1927 – 1929), Australian of the Year (1963), and Companion in the Order of Australia (1990).

In 1962 Eccles left Australia again and went to the USA. However, he spent his last years of retirement in Switzerland. He died at Locarno, Switzerland because of poor health in 1997.