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Harold Saxton Burr

Posted on March 7, 2012 at 12:15 AM

Harold Saxton Burr (April 18, 1889 in Lowell, Massachusetts—February 17, 1973) was E. K. Hunt Professor of Anatomy at Yale University School of Medicine. His early years were spent in Springfield, Massachusetts, while most of his later life was spent in New Haven. In 1908 he was admitted to the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale and received his Ph.B. in 1911. On December 27 of that year, in Chicago, he married Jean Chandler, with whom he had a son, Peter. In 1914 he was appointed Instructor in Anatomy at Yale. He received his Ph.D. in 1915 and was a teacher at Yale until 1958, becoming an Assistant Professor in 1919, an Associate Professor in 1926, and Professor in 1929.[1][2]

Over forty years, from 1916 to 1956, Burr published, either alone or with others, ninety-three scientific papers.[3] Early studies mostly focused upon the development of the meninges and other neural bodies, often studying the amblystoma or larval salamander.

In 1932, however, his observations of neuro-cellular proliferation in the amblystoma led him to propose the "electro-dynamic theory of development" for which he is now most widely remembered. 1935 saw the publication of his general papers (with F.S.C. Northrop) "The electro-dynamic theory of life" and (with C.T. Lane) "Electrical characteristics of living systems". Burr is noted for his use of the voltmeter to detect the electromagnetic potential of the body, first reported upon in his 1936 paper (with C. T. Lane and L.F.Nims) "A vacuum tube microvoltmeter for the measurement of bio-electric phenomena". Burr proposed the term "L-Field" for the bio-electric fields of living systems.

Burr's research contributed to the electrical detection of cancer cells, experimental embryology, neuroanatomy, and the regeneration and development of the nervous system. His studies of the bio-electrics of ovulation and menstruation eventually led to the marketing of fertility-indicating devices. His late studies of the electrodynamics of trees, carried out over decades, suggested entrainment to diurnal, lunar and annual cycles. He also contributed a few papers on the history and sociology of his field.


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