Haldan Keffer Hartline Biography

(American Physiologist Who Won the Nobel Prize for His Work in Examining the Neurophysiological Mechanisms of Vision)

Birthday: December 22, 1903 (Capricorn)

Born In: Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, US

Haldan Keffer Hartline was an American physiologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1967 for his work on analyzing the neurophysiological mechanism of vision. He shared the coveted prize with George Wald and Ragnar Granit. Hartline spent decades studying the optic nerves of frogs and horseshoe crabs. He became the first scientist to isolate and record the activity of a single optic nerve fibre. He later showed that different fibres in the optic nerves respond to light in different ways. Hartline’s inclination towards physiology or medicine started early. His parents were professors at the State Normal School (now Bloomsburg State College). His father who was a Professor in Biology inspired Hartline to take up Natural Sciences. Since the beginning of his career, Hartline dedicated his time to research on cellular-level electrical activity within the eye. Other than scientific research, he also held several academic positions in his life. He was a Professor of Biophysics at the John Hopkins University and later Professor of Neurophysiology at the Rockfeller Institute.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Kraus

father: David S Hartline

mother: Harriet Frankline Keffer Hartline

Physiologists American Men

Died on: March 17, 1983

place of death: Fallston, Maryland, US

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

More Facts

awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1967)

Childhood & Early Life
Haldan Keffer Hartline was born on December 22, 1903 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania to David S Hartline and Harriet Frankline Keffer Hartline. Both his parents were teacher by profession.
Hartline was, in his early days, greatly influenced by his father, who was a Professor of biology but with varied interests going as far as astronomy and geology. Through senior Hartline, he developed an interest for Natural Sciences, one that stayed with him for the better part of his life.
Young Hartline received his preliminary education at State Normal School, the same school where his parents taught. After completing his early education, he enrolled at the Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. In 1923, he graduated from the same with a Bachelor degree in Science.
Encouraged by his college teacher Beverly W. Kunkel, Hartline took up research after his graduation. He submitted his first scientific paper on visual responses of land isopods. After spending the summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, he entered John Hopkins University in the autumn of 1923.
At John Hopkins University, Hartline was encouraged to continue his vision research in the Department of Physiology under E. K. Marshall and C. D. Snyder. He began his study of the retina electrophysiology. He used Snyder’s Einthoven string galvanometer to study the retinal action potential using frogs, decerebrate cats and rabbits. Within a framework of time, he recorded electroretinograms from animals, and also noted recognizable retinal action potentials from human subjects.
In 1927, Hartline completed his PhD in medicine from John Hopkins University. Almost immediately thereafter, he received a National Research Council Fellowship that enabled him to study mathematics and physics. For the next two years, he studied at the Physics Department of the University.
In 1929, Hartline received Eldridge Reeves Johnson Traveling Fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania. The fellowship helped him to study at the University of Leipzig and the University of Munich.
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After attending the University of Leipzig and Munich, Hartline returned to USA to take up the position in the Eldridge Reeves Johnson Foundation for Medical Physics, at the University of Pennsylvania, under the directorship of Detlev W. Bronk.
At the Johnson Foundation Hartline began his studies on the activity of the single optic nerve fibre in the eye of the horseshoe crab, Limulus, recording the responses of receptor units under various conditions of stimulation and adaptation.
During the mid-1930s, he undertook the single fibre analysis of the optic responses of the vertebrate retina, principally in the eye of the frog. Eventually, he became the first scientist to isolate and record the activity of a single optic nerve fibre. He later showed that different fibres in the optic nerves respond to light in different ways. Early in the decade of 1940, Hartline also worked on problems of night vision in human subjects.
For a year from 1940 to 1941, Hartline served as an Associate Professor of Physiology at Cornell Medical College in New York City. However, he returned to Johnson Foundation and stayed therein until 1949.
In 1949, he accepted a position of the Professor of Biophysics and Chairman of the Thomas C Jenkins Department of Biophysics at the John Hopkins University. While serving as Professor of Biophysics Hartline recorded from the receptor units in the Limulus eye. He took to the studying of the inhibitory interaction in the Limulus retina, begun briefly several years before.
In 1953, Hartline accepted Professorship at the Rockfeller Institute (now Rockfeller University). At Rockfeller Institute, he was joined by Floyd Ratliff the following year. Together with Ratliff, he studied receptor properties and inhibitory interaction in the eye of Limulus. The duo even researched on various aspects related to visual physiology.
Major Works
Hartline spent the major part of his career investigating the electrical responses of the retinas of certain arthropods, vertebrates and molluscs. Furthermore, he focused his study on the eye of the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus). Hartline obtained the first record of the electrical impulses sent by a single optic nerve fibre when the receptors connected to it are stimulated by light. He later showed that different fibres in the optic nerves respond to light in different ways.
Awards & Achievements
In his lifetime, Hartline was decorated with numerous distinctions and honors. In 1927, he received the William H. Howell Award. He followed this up with the Howard Crosby Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 1948, the Albert A. Michelson Award by Case Institute of Technology in 1964, the Lighthouse Award in 1969.
In 1967, Hartline received the Nobel Prize for physiology or Medicine. He received the prize for his work in analysing the neurophysiological mechanism of vision. He shared the prize with George Wald and Ragnar Granit.
He was felicitated with honorary doctorate from various universities and institutions. In 1959, he received DSc. degree from Lafayette Collge. John Hopkins University conferred upon him a degree of LLD in 1969. In 1971, he received an honorary D.Sc. from the University of Pennsylvania and honrary M.D. degree from Albert-Ludwigs University, Freiburg im Breisgau.
Over the course of his career, Professor Hartline became member of several prestigious academies and scientific societies some of which include National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of London, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Physiological Society, Optical Society of America, Biophysical Society, and so on.
Personal Life & Legacy
Hartline tied the nuptial knot with Elizabeth Kraus in 1936. She was the daughter of eminent chemist, C.A Kraus. Elizabeth worked as an instructor in Comparative Psychology at Bryn Mawr College. The couple was blessed with three sons, Daniel Keffer, Peter Haldan, and Frederick Flanders.
Hartline breathed his last on March 17, 1983 in Fallston Maryland, United States.

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