Sir John Eccles Biography

(Australian Neurophysiologist Who Won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for His Work on the Synapse)

Birthday: January 27, 1903 (Aquarius)

Born In: Melbourne, Australia

Sir John Carew Eccles was a neurophysiologist from Australia who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on synapse in the central nervous system. He shared the prize with two other scientists, Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Fielding Huxley. His research centered on the complex way in which the human brain works and the neurophysiologic processes which control thought processes. He discovered the chemical reactions allow or suppress the impulses sent to the nerve cells or neurons in the brain. Though he believed till 1949 that the synaptic transmission was mainly due to electrical impulses rather than chemical, his experiments later proved his hypothesis otherwise. After conducting various experiments with Bernard Katz, he came to the conclusion that these transmissions had a chemical side too. He proved that the communication between two adjacent nerve cells is done by the release of chemicals into the synapse or the gap between the two cells. Every reaction of the brain was caused by a distinct chemical reaction which caused an electrical impulse to be passed from one cell to another. Apart from the research on synapses he also played an important role in the development of neuroscience. His experiments helped in the future treatment of nervous diseases and brain, heart and kidney research.

Quick Facts

Australian Celebrities Born In January

Also Known As: Sir John Carew Eccles

Died At Age: 94


Spouse/Ex-: Helena Taborikova, Irene Frances Miller

father: William James Eccles

mother: Mary Carew

Born Country: Australia

Physiologists Neuroscientists

Died on: May 2, 1997

place of death: Tenero-Contra, Switzerland

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates In Physiology

City: Melbourne, Australia

More Facts

education: University Of Melbourne, University Of Oxford

awards: Knight Bachelor (1958)
Royal Medal (1962)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1963)
Companion of the Order of Australia (1990)

Childhood & Early Life
Sir John Eccles was born in Melbourne, Australia on January 27, 1903. Both his father William James Eccles and his mother Mary Carew were school teachers.
He was schooled at home by his parents till he was twelve years of age. He grew up with two sisters.
He initially attended the ‘Warrnambool High School’ which is currently known as the ‘Warrnambool College’.
He completed his schooling from the ‘Melbourne High School’.
At the age of 17, he received a senior scholarship for studying medicine at the ‘University of Melbourne’.
He graduated from the ‘Melbourne University’ in 1925 with a first class honors in Medicine.
He was awarded the ‘Victorian Rhodes Scholarship’ for the year 1925 and attended the ‘Magdalen College, Oxford’.
In 1927 he received first class honors in ‘Natural Sciences’, the ‘Christopher Welch Scholarship’ and a ‘Junior Research Fellowship’ and joined the ‘Exeter College, Oxford’.
He received his D.Phil in Philosophy in 1929 from the Oxford University.
He received a ‘Staines Medical Fellowship’ in 1932 for doing research at Exeter College, Oxford after completing his doctorate.
He also received a tutorial fellowship at the Magdalen College and a University Demonstratorship in 1934.
Continue Reading Below
He returned to Australia in 1937 as the Director of a small medical research center in Sydney named ‘Kanematsu Institute’ under the ‘Sydney Medical School’.
During the period 1937 to 1943 he was engaged in research on the neuromuscular reactions in frogs and cats. He devoted the later part of this period on experiments to help the war effort.
He was appointed at the ‘University of Otago’ in New Zealand after the war ended and spent the period from 1944 to 1951 doing his own experiments on the central nervous system.
In 1951 Eccles, Brock and Coombs were successful in inserting microelectrodes for the first time into the nerve cells of the central nervous system and were able to record the electrical impulses created by synaptic transmissions.
He worked from 1952 to 1966 at the ‘John Curtin School of Medical Research’ under the ‘Australian National University’ in Canberra as a Professor of Physiology.
In 1966 he moved to the United States and joined the ‘Institute for Biomedical Research’ located in Chicago where he carried on his research on synapses.
He was not happy with the working conditions prevailing at the institute in Chicago and joined the ‘State University of New York’ in Buffalo in the United States in 1968. He remained with this university until he retired in 1975.
After retirement he left the United States for Switzerland and wrote on the problems regarding the relationship between the mind and the body.
Major Works
Sir John Eccles’ book ‘The Self and its Brain’ written in collaboration with Karl Popper and Karl Raimund was published in 1977.
Continue Reading Below
His two main works ‘The Human Mystery. Gifford Lectures’ and the ‘The Human Psyche. Gifford Lectures’ were published in 1979 and 1980 respectively.
His book ‘The Wonder of being Human: Our Brain and our Mind’ written in collaboration with Daniel N. Robinson and his own book ‘Mind and Brain: The Many-Faceted Problems’ came out in 1984 and 1985 respectively while his last book ‘How the Self Controls its Brain’ was published in 1994.
Awards & Achievements
Sir John Carew Eccles received a ‘Fellowship of the Royal Society’ in 1941.
He received a ‘Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science’ and honorary doctorates from nine different universities.
He was honored with knighthood in 1958.
He was declared ‘Australian of the Year’ in 1963.
He received the Nobel Prize in 1963.
In 1964 he was made an honorary member of the ‘American Philosophical Society’.
In 1990 he was appointed as a ‘Companion of the Order of Australia’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married his first wife Irene Frances Miller in 1928 and divorced her in 1968. He had four sons and five daughters from this marriage.
He married his second wife Helena Taborikova in 1968 after divorcing Irene. Helena was a neurophysiologist with an M.D. and worked with him at the Charles University during his research work.
Sir John Eccles died in Tenero-Contra, Locarno, Switzerland, on May 2, 1997.
Unlike other scientists, Sir John Eccles believed that science alone could not explain everything in the universe.
He had a deep spiritual sense about the reality of every unexplained matter in this world and believed in unraveled mysteries.
He tried to reconcile science and faith.

See the events in life of Sir John Eccles in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Sir John Eccles Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Charles Richet Biography
Charles Richet
Ulf von Euler Biography
Ulf von Euler
Roger Guillemin Biography
Roger Guillemin
Charles Best Biography
Charles Best
(American, Canadian)