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IN MEMORIAM ALAN CHADBURN BURTON _1904-19791 Alan Burton Powered By Docstoc
					                                                                    IN MEMORIAM
                                                               ALAN CHADBURN BURTON

     Alan Burton, Professor-Emeritus      at the University of Western
Ontario and one of Canada’s most distinguished                biophysicists,
died suddenly on June 27th. 1979. He was born in London,
England, and received the B.Sc. degree with First Class Honors
in Physics and Mathematics from the University of London. After
teaching high school Physics in Liverpool he immigrated                      to
Canada at 23 years of age, becoming a graduate student in
Physics at the University of Toronto. He obtained the M.A. and
Ph.D. degrees from Toronto, for research on ‘Absorption spectra
of the major planets’ and ‘Heating of electrolytes by high frequen-
cy currents,’ respectively. The latter topic was then of great
medical interest, since artificial fever by electromagnetic            heating
was in vogue, and it led him to join Professor Murlin, at the
Department of Vital Economics, University of Rochester, in work
on the heat exchange of man and animals. He did research on
human calorimetry           and became attracted          to the virtually
undeveloped field of Biophysics. During tenure of a Rockefeller
 Foundation Training Fellowship at the Medical School of the
 University of Pennsylvania, Burton undertook research with Pro-
fessor Bazett on peripheral blood flow in man and learned, in the
 process, that ‘Physiology is fun.’ This was followed by four years
as a research fellow at the Johnson Foundation                   for Medical
 Physics, University of Pennsylvania, working with Dr. Detlev
 Bronk on the study of human temperature regulation. On the out-
 break of World War II, he returned to Canada and worked as a
 National Research Council Research Associate at the Banting In-
 stitute, Toronto, on aviation medicine and the development of
 protective clothing for all services. Much of this work was
 classified, but it was obviously considered significant, for he was
 later awarded the M.B.E. for his contributions           during the war.
     In 1945 Burton came, by invitation, to the Department                    of
 Medical Research, University of Western Ontario, and in 1946
 was appointed Professor and Head of the new Department of                              retired on the 36th of June 1970, he remained very active in
  Biophysics, the first such department           in a Canadian Medical                 undergraduate     and graduate teaching, and in scientific research.
  School. Under his leadership, Western became the first Canadian                       His last paper was accepted for publication “as is” on May 3rd,
  University to offer graduate degrees in Biophysics and he per-                        1979, and shortly before he died he made the final revisions to the
 sonally trained 14 M.Sc. and 22 Ph.D. students. Canada’s first                         manuscript      for his third      book “Understanding          Human
  undergraduate      program in Honors Biophysics was also started by                   Cancer: The Physiological and Biophysical Point of View”; this
  him at Western in 1966 and the program still bears much of the                        monograph is now at the galley proof stage and is to be published
 imprint of its founder. His work received international acclaim and                    shortly. It was on his way home from the laboratory that he col-
 he is the only person to have been elected President of the                            lapsed and died, at the age of 75 years.
 American        Phsyiological     Society     (1956).      the Canadian                    Alan Burton was one of the first physicists to become a
  Physiological Society (1959). and the Biophysical Society (1966).                     biophysicist, and he summarized the challenges of this discipline
  He served as Chairman of the Federation of American Societies                         in a paper written        for Canadian Physicists (1953) entitled
 for Experimental Biology (1957-58) and of the Canadian Federa-                         “Biophysics,     Humble Pie for Inflated Physicists”! His unusual
  tion of Biological Societies (1963). He received a Gairdner Foun-                     background     and logical mind led to completely new and un-
  dation Award (19611, and the degrees (Honoris Causal of LL.D.                         conventional approaches to biological problems. During the early
  from the University of Alberta (1964) and D.Sc. from the Univer-                      years at Western, when combined research seminars were held in
  sity of Western Ontario (1974). Burton is known, internationally,                      the Medical School once a week, his exceptional ability to pose
  for his work on temperature regulation, the physics of the circula-                    deceptively simple questions became legendary. At Medical
  tion, the mechanics of the red cell and, more recently, on the fun-                    Grand Rounds at Victoria Hospital, he could be counted on to
  damental mechanisms and epidemiology              of human cancer. His                 enlighten clinicians and students with his penetrating questions
  book “Man in a Cold Environment,”          published with Otto Edholm                  and discussions of difficult clinical problems. Graduate students
   in 1955, is still regarded as a classic in that area. His second book                 discovered that coffee break with Dr. Burton was the best course
   “The Physiology and Biophysics of the Circulation,”            published in           they ever took, a Socratic experience in the classical tradition. Dr.
    1965 and revised in 1972, was written for undergraduate           students           William Pace, who knew him well, has contributed the following
   and has had a very wide acceptance,               being translated into               delightful description of life in Burton’s laboratory in the early
    French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. Although he                            1950’s:

   “Having been brought up in the English tradition, Dr. Burton               medical scientist. His portrait, drawn by his former graduate stu-
   insisted that there be a tea period each morning and after-                dent Dr. Alfred Jay, hangs in our Seminar room and the Quota-
   noon, created a space for this activity where none had been                tion from Bacon is inscribed on the wall of the foyer of our
   available and make it virtually mandatory that every graduate              Medical School. Each of us at Western owes much to Alan Bur-
   student attend faithfully twice daily. As you can well imagine,            ton, and his spirit will live on in the Department of Biophysics he
   with his booming voice and great hulk of a body, he completely             created.
   commanded these seances, actively picked everybody’s brain                                            Alan C. Groom, Ph.D.,
   in turn, asked questions of an outlandish type, offered en-                                           Professor and Chairman,
   couragement     to anyone whose project was foundering and                                            Department of Biophysics,
   drew all of us closer to each other. I never experienced a more                                       The University of Western     Ontario.
   stimulating time before or since and I knew, without doubt,
   that I was in the presence of not only a magnificent brain but a           1. Biophysics, Humble Pie for Inflated Physicists. Alan C. Burton.
   truly great person.”
                                                                                    Physics in Canada. 8: 6-46 (1953).
Burton’s enthusiasm was infectious and his skill as a lecturer was            2. A Virtue of Ignorance. A Biophysicist asks simple questions
renowned among undergraduate        and graduate students alike. As                 about medicine and Medical Research. A. C. Burton. Annals
an examiner he was dreaded, because of the disconcertingly sim-                     of the Royal Society of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
ple questions he asked (peering the while through those bushy                       I: 192-201 (1968).
eyebrows); yet his fairness could be relied upon utterly. He was              3. Variety - the spice of science as well as of life. The disadvant-
never happier than in an undergraduate      laboratory class, asking                ages of specialization.  A. C. Burton. Ann. Rev. of Physiol.
students questions about their experiments and the wider im-                        37, 1975.
plications of their results. He used each experiment as a ‘window’
on to biology, and always ended up at the chalkboard expoun-
ding ideas and topics for research.

  One of Burton’s favorite quotations        was   Francis   Bacon’s
description of ‘The Scientific Mind’:
   “A mind, nimble and versatile enough          to catch the
   resemblances of things, which is the chief point, and at the
   same time steady enough to fix and discern their subtle dif-
   ferences, endowed by nature, with the desire to seek, pa-
   tience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert,
   readiness to reconsider,   carefulness to set in order, and
   neither affecting what is new nor admiring what is old and
   hating every kind of imposture.”
Burton exemplified much of this himself, except that he never
was slow to assert! However, he showed a willingness to recon-
sider, and always put his opponents on their mettle to produce                              SPLANCHNIC       CIRCULATION      GROUP
convincing arguments in support of their contentions.     He will be             The Splanchnic Circulation Group was establshed in the Spring
most remembered by students for his ability to make understan-                of 1979 in order to increase communication        and cooperation bet-
dable to non-physicists     the application   of physical laws to             ween investigators    interested in circulation      of the liver and
biology. He believed, and exemplified in person, that the arousal             digestive organs. Currently, the group has 70 members including
of interest is paramount to success in teaching. He made the                  physiologists, pharmacologists,     and clinical investigators. The se-
study of physics of living things relevant, exciting and, above all,          cond annual meeting of this group will be held on May 18, 1980 at
fun.                                                                          the University of Utah Medical Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, dur-
                                                                              ing the Digestive Diseases Week. Topic of the meeting is
    Dr. Burton is survived by his wife Clara, son Peter, two grand-
children, and a large community of scientific children and friends.           Methodology     of Splanchnic      Circulation.   Those who are in-
                                                                              terested in the meeting and/or in joining the group should con-
It was his family’s wish that memorial contributions    be made to:
                           The Dr. Alan C. Burton Prize Fund,                                             Dr. C. C. Chou
                           c/o The University of Western Ontario,                                         Department of Physiology
                           London, Ontario, Canada.                                                       Michigan State University
                                                                                                          East Lansing, Ml 48824
This prize of $300 is awarded annually to the undergraduate      stu-
dent with the highest ‘A’ standing in Year Ill Biophysics courses,
the courses Alan Burton loved most to teach. Each gift will be
acknowledged    and an official receipt issued by the University.
    When I phoned a colleague of Dr. Burton’s and broke the news
to him, he said, reflectively, “That’s really the end of an era, isn’t
it”? We have all shared this same awareness and have stopped in
our tracks to reflect on Alan Burton - the man, his times and his
achievements;    not merely to admire or disapprove, but to learn
what significant lessons we can learn from him as a man and as a


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