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Sir John Carew Eccles

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1963 (with Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Fielding Huxley)

"for discoveries concerning the ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in the peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane"

Sir John Carew Eccles was born on 27th January, 1903 in Melbourne, Victoria. He completed his secondary school studies at Warrnambool High School. In 1920, at the age of 17, he was awarded a senior scholarship to study medicine at the University of Melbourne. As a medical student he was greatly influenced by Darwin’s Origin of Species and read a lot on physiology and philosophy. During this time he tried to identify the interaction between the mind and the brain but was unable to find a suitable explanation. This gave him the motivation to become a neuroscientist.

In 1925 he graduated from the University of Melbourne with first class honours and several clinical prizes. Soon after, as Victorian Rhodes Scholar for 1925, he entered Magdalen College, Oxford, as an undergraduate in order to study under Sir Charles Sherrington, with whom he later wrote 8 papers. In 1937 Eccles returned to Australia and accepted a position at Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital. During his time at Kanematsu, he lead a research team studying the actions of chemical substances on the transmission of nerve impulses in muscles. In 1943 he moved to Dublin and joined the Otago Medical School as Professor of Physiology. In Dublin, Eccles met the science philosopher Karl Popper, who made a significant influence on his research. In 1977 the pair produced a book entitled The Self and Its Brain, which is Eccles' most cited philosophical writing.

In 1952, Eccles returned to Australia and joined the John Curtin School of Medical Research (now known as Australian National University) as the foundation chair of Physiology. He regarded his years at Canberra as his most productive ones. While working at ANU, his contributions on ionic mechanisms of synaptic transmission in the brain awarded him the Nobel Prize in 1963. He was also recognized internationally for his numerous writings related to the mind and brain problems. During his career, Eccles received numerous awards, including the Christopher Welch Scholar, Oxford (1927-29), Australian of the Year (1963), and the Companion in the Order of Australia (1990).

In 1962 Eccles again left Australia and moved to USA. But he spent his final years of retirement in Switzerland. In 1997 he died at Locarno, Switzerland due to ill health.

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