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Dr. Carl C. Speidel

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From the Medical Alumni News Letter, May 1964: "When Dr. Carl C. Speidel, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, retires on June 30, he will end the longest tenure of any member of the medical faculty,....forty-four years, with last thirty-three as a full professor.... He is especially noted for the ingenuity with which he has used familiar instruments -- the microscope and the movie camera -- to reveal important facts about cells. Because he was the first to learn all the secrets of nerve growth by studying nerves inside animal organisms, thus settling a scientific controversy that had lasted for seventy years, he received the coveted $1,000 prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, given for 'a notable contribution to science.' The presentation was made at the annual meeting of the Association in New Orleans on January 1, 1932. Dr. Speidel was thirty-eight at the time, and had just been made a full professor. Professor G. H. Parker of Harvard University, chairman of the committee to select the winner, said: 'Dr. Speidel has proved once and for all that nerves do not grow as a result of cells forming a chain, but that each nerve grows out of a single cell in a central nervous system. This establishes the "outgrowth theory" of nerves as opposed to the "chain theory."' No one had been able to check the out-growth on a living animal before. Dr. Speidel started to study the development of the nerves by entirely novel methods, using the dark-field illumination method to study nerves in the living animal. Instead of the light coming from above the microscope, h e had the light come from the sides, resulting in better visibility. Thus over a period of weeks he was able to see what nerves branch out from the spiral column and spread, like the roots and branches of a plant, into all parts of the body. He found that nerves went almost uncannily to the place they were intended for, and that they were quite sensitive to their environment, with exploratory processes being continually sent out and retracted. His lighting method also enabled him to see that a cut nerve cannot be spliced and made to function again,-- that new nerve material must grow out from the root to repair the damage. Dr. Speidel's discovery was heralded, not only in scientific journals, but as the 'lead' story on the front page of the New York TIMES of January 2, 1932, with headlines proclaiming 'Dr. C. C. SPEIDEL WINS SCIENCE PRIZE -- FINDS NERVE SECRETS SOUGHT FOR 70 YEARS: "CHAIN" THEORY IS UPSET -- Strands Are Found to Start from Single Cells and Explore Their Way Past Obstacles.' This was big news, exciting news, in 1932. TIME Magazine featured Dr. Speidel's achievement as a major scientific break-through, and in its issue of January 11, 1932 carried a story of his winning the A. A. A. S. award with a typical TIME heading: 'Carl Caskey Speidel...looked into a tadpole's tail.' This was one of many brilliant achievements which have brought honors and awards to Dr. Speidel. His fields of original investigations have included experimental studies of nerve fibers, sense organs, muscle fibers, hyperthyroidism, neuro-secretion, blood cells; effects of radiation (X-Ray and ultraviolet) on cells; and microscopic movies of cell behavior (made directly from the experimental animals).... Dr. Speidel was born on October 26, 1893 in Washington, D.C. He received the Ph.B. degree from Lafayette College in 1914, and Ph.D. degree in biology from Princeton University in 1918...."
UVa Medical Allumni News Letter
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University of Virginia Visual History Collection
Historical Collections & Services, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, Charlottesville, Va.
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