Saturday, May 12, 2007

Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, R. I. P.

First posted in Otterman speaks, 11 Mar 2007

The study of animal physiology demonstrates a diversity of strategies that have evolved to handle the environment. Those of us in the department of Zoology and later Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore (in the 80's and early 90's at least) were fortunate to to learn about this diversity and escaped the insularity of the mouse-rabbit-hamster models. Amidst all this was Schmidt-Nielsen, father of the field and author of our very expensive text book!

His 5th edition was first available in Borders Singapore and later in the National University of Singapore's Science Co-op.

Just now, my Google News Alerts for Duke University picked this up: "Knut Schmidt-Nielsen dies." By Kirsten Weir. The Scientist, 08 Mar 2007. International Prize for Biology winner was a pioneer in the field of comparative physiology.

Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, who helped create the modern field of comparative animal physiology, died of natural causes January 25 at his home in Durham, North Carolina. He was 91.

"He was driven by an intense curiosity about how animals work," said his former graduate student Barbara Block, now a professor of marine sciences at Stanford University. "He was the father of the field of animal physiology."


In the first part of the 20th century, most physiology research revolved around dogs -- but Schmidt-Nielsen changed all that ... [he] championed a comparative approach to physiology ... which helped to integrate the field with evolutionary biology and ecology.

For instance, Schmidt-Nielsen and his students applied their questions to a broad range of species -- camels and sand rats, ostriches and alligators, fish and snails. He'd study any creature that he thought might help him answer the big questions about how animals were constructed, Vogel said. "He wanted to know how kidneys worked, so he looked at the animal that places the most severe demands on the kidneys."

Schmidt-Nielsen "was one of the very first people to look at how different animals solve the same problems," agreed Sonke Johnsen, a Duke University biologist who considered Schmidt-Nielsen an "intellectual grandfather."


Schmidt-Nielsen was also an accomplished writer, penning five books in addition to some 270 papers. He published a memoir in 1998, and his Animal Physiology textbook, now in its fifth edition, is still widely used, Johnsen and Fedak said.

[Vogel]: "He had a great deal of fun doing science," he said, "but it was fun in the sense of working hard at it."

Schmidt-Nielsen is survived by his wife Margareta, a son and a daughter.

Read the complete article at The Scientist.

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