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Jaques-Arsène d' Arsonval

Born 1851-06-08
Died 1940-12-31

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French physiologist, born June 8, 1851, Chateau de la Borie, St. Germain-les-Belles, La Porcherie; died December 31, 1940, Chateau de la Borie.

Biography of Jaques-Arsène d' Arsonval

Jaques-Arsène d'Arsonval came from a family of France’s ancient nobility. He studied classics at the Lycée Imperial de Limoges and later at the Collège St.-Barbe. Having obtained a baccalaureate degree from the Université de Poitiers in 1869, d’Arsonval decided upon a career in medicine and commenced his studies at Limoges.

After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 he went to Paris where he met the famous physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878) and was drawn to Bernard’s lectures. He was Bernard’s préparateur from 1873 to 1878. After Bernard’s death he assisted Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894), giving the latter’s winter courses, and eventually replaced him at the Collège de France when Brown-Séquard died in 1894.

On November 14, 1881, Paul Bert (1830-1886) was appointed minister of public education in Leon Gambetta’s (1838-1882) government. Although Gambetta’s ministry only lasted until January 26, 1882, Bert, physiologist, politician and diplomat, considered the founder of modern aerospace medicine, enabled Collège de France to establish a laboratory for biophysics at rue St.-Jacques. D’Arsonval directed the laboratory until 1910, when he moved to the new laboratory at Nogent-sur-Marne, erected with funds raised by public subscription. He directed this laboratory until his retirement in 1931.

Influenced by Bernard, d’Arsonval gave up his medical career for a life of physiological research. As Bernard’s assistant, d’Arsonval’s first projects were on animal heat and body temperature. He assisted Brown-Séquard the famous experiment on endocrine extract. Their investigations of the therapeutic properties of animal extracts revealed clues to the later controversial hormone theory of wound healing. They found that testicular extracts from guinea pigs had definite antiseptic properties. D’Arsonval’s most outstanding scientific contributions, however, involved the biological and technological applications of electricity. Much of this work concerned muscle contractions.

His invention in 1882 with Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) and Deprez of what is now known as the Deprez-d'Arsonval galvanometer, came after he had studied muscle contractions in frogs using a telephone, which operates on an extremely feeble currents similar to animal electricity. He demonstrated how a human being could conduct an alternating current strong enough to light an electric lamp (1892).

In 1881, Arsène d'Arsonval first suggested harnessing the temperature difference in the tropical seas for the generation of electricity. His idea was given a first test by Georges Claude in Cuba in the 1920's, and this technology is now ready for producing electricity from sea solar power. In 1902 d’Arsonval worked with Georges Claude on industrial methods for the liquefaction of gases.

His contribution to medicine, now overshadowed by the antibiotic era, created a minor revolution in clinical therapeutics. D’Arsonval literally founded the paramedical field of physiotherapy. In 1918 he was elected president of the Institute for Actinology.

D’Arsonval was an active member of societies for electrotherapy, physics, electronics, - - engineering, electro ceramics, and soldering, in addition to being a member of the Society of Biologists, the Academy of medicine (1888), and the Academy of Sciences (1894). In 1933 the Ministry of Education held an official jubilee for d’Arsonval at the Sorbonne. He was created knight of the Legion of Honour in 1884, and received the Grand Cross in 1931.

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