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Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian
Born Edgar Douglas Adrian
30 November 1889(1889-11-30)
Hampstead, London, England
Died 4 August 1977 (aged 87)
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Electrophysiology
Institutions Cambridge University
Alma mater Cambridge University

Edgar Douglas Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian OM PRS (30 November 1889 – 4 August 1977)[1][2] was a British electrophysiologist and recipient of the 1932 Nobel Prize for Physiology, won jointly with Sir Charles Sherrington for work on the function of neurons.



Adrian was born at Hampstead, London to Alfred Douglas Adrian, CB MC, legal adviser to the Local Government Board and Flora Lavinia Barton.[3] He attended Westminster School and studied Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, remaining in Cambridge for the major part of his life.

Completing a medical degree in 1915, he did clinical work at St Bartholomew's Hospital London during World War I, treating soldiers with nerve damage and nervous disorders such as shell shock. Adrian returned to Cambridge in 1919 and in 1925 began his studies of nerve impulses in the human sensory organs.

Adrian married Hester Agnes Pinsent on 14 June 1923 and they had three children, a daughter and mixed twins:

He died in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.



Continuing earlier studies of Keith Lucas, he used a capillary electrometer and cathode ray tube to amplify the signals produced by the nervous system and was able to record the electrical discharge of single nerve fibres under physical stimulus. An accidental discovery by Adrian in 1928 proved the presence of electricity within nerve cells. Adrian said,

"I had arranged electrodes on the optic nerve of a toad in connection with some experiments on the retina. The room was nearly dark and I was puzzled to hear repeated noises in the loudspeaker attached to the amplifier, noises indicating that a great deal of impulse activity was going on. It was not until I compared the noises with my own movements around the room that I realized I was in the field of vision of the toad's eye and that it was signaling what I was doing."

A key result, published in 1928, stated that the excitation of the skin under constant stimulus is initially strong but gradually decreases over time, whereas the sensory impulses passing along the nerves from the point of contact are constant in strength, yet are reduced in frequency over time, and the sensation in the brain diminishes as a result.

Extending these results to the study of pain causes by the stimulus of the nervous system, he made discoveries about the reception of such signals in the brain and spatial distribution of the sensory areas of the cerebral cortex in different animals. These conclusions lead to the idea of a sensory map, called the homunculus, in the somatosensory system.

Later, Adrian used the electroencephalogram to study the electrical activity of the brain in humans. His work on the abnormalities of the Berger rhythm paved the way for subsequent investigation in epilepsy and other cerebral pathologies. He spent the last portion of his research career investigating olfaction.

Among the many awards and positions he received during his career were Foulerton Professor 1929-1937; Professor of Physiology at the University of Cambridge 1937-1951; President of the Royal Society 1950-1955; Master of Trinity College, Cambridge 1951-1965; Chancellor of the University of Cambridge 1967-1975; and Chancellor of the University of Leicester 1957–1971. In 1942 he was awarded the Order of Merit, and in 1955 was created Baron Adrian, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge.


  • The Basis of Sensation (1928)
  • The Mechanism of Nervous Action (1932)
  • Factors Determining Human Behavior (1937)


  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: DEC 1889 1a 650 HAMPSTEAD - Edgar Douglas Adrian
  2. ^ GRO Register of Deaths: SEP 1977 9 0656 CAMBRIDGE - Edgar Douglas Adrian, DoB = 30 Nov 1889
  3. ^ - Person Page 4412
  4. ^ Peter Townend, ed., Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 105th edition (London, U.K.: Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1970), page 27.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
George Macaulay Trevelyan
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
The Lord Butler of Saffron Walden
Preceded by
New position
Chancellor of the University of Leicester
Succeeded by
Alan Lloyd Hodgkin
Preceded by
The Lord Tedder
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
Succeeded by
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Adrian
Succeeded by
Richard Adrian

Simple English

Edgar Douglas Adrian
BornNovember 30, 1889
London, England
DiedAugust 8, 1977
Alma materUniveristy of Cambridge
Notable prizesNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1932)

Edgar Douglas Adrian (November 30, 1889 - August 8, 1977) was an English doctor.[1] He won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Charles Scott Sherrington, for the discovery of neurons.



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