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Francis Gano Benedict

Born 1870
Died 1957

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American physiologist and nutritionist, born October 3, 1870, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; died April 14, 1957, Machiasport, Maine.

Biography of Francis Gano Benedict

Francis Gano Benedict was recognized as one of the world's foremost investigators in the field of respiratory metabolism. He was the son of Washington Gano and Harriet Emily (Barrett) Benedict. When he was seven years old his family moved to Florida and four years later to Boston. Here he received his high school education, studied chemistry for one year at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and then entered Harvard University, where he studied chemistry with Josiah Parsons Cooke (1827-1894). He received his AB from Harvard in 1893, his AM in 1894.

He completed his PhD studies, magna cum laude at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and received his doctorate in 1895. He continued his graduate studies at Heidelberg, chiefly under Victor Meyer, and obtained the Ph.D. degree Magna cum laude in 1895. His dissertation was entitled "Ueber die Jodoniumbasen aus p-Bromjodbenzol."

All of Benedict's training had been in the field of chemistry. Upon his return to the United States in 1895 he received an appointment as research assistant in the Department of Chemistry at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, under Professor Wilbur Olin Atwater (1844-1907), a chemical physiologist. It was Atwater who encouraged Benedict to study physiology and nutrition.

In joining the staff of the Department of Chemistry at Wesleyan as an assistant to Atwater, Benedict became associated with one of the outstanding investigators of his time in the fields of agricultural and physiological chemistry and the founder of the science of nutrition in the United States.

Over a 12-year period from 1895, Atwater and Benedict conducted over 500 experiments concerning rest, exercise, and diet using the Atwater-Rosa respiration calorimeter. This contraption later became known as the Atwater-Rosa-Benedict calorimeter. Their results appeared in six bulletins of the Office of Experiment Stations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the general title Experiments on the Metabolism of Matter and Energy in the Human Body. In addition,

A series of studies which attracted wide popular as well as scientific attention dealt with the physiological action of alcohol, as reported in a Memoir of the National Academy of Sciences in 1909. It was found that alcohol could provide energy for warmth and probably for work and could protect body tissues from catabolism. The results of these studies brought a storm of criticism from temperance organizations, both of the investigators and of Wesleyan University, then a Methodist institution.

From 1895 to 1907 Benedict was a physiological chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and from 1896 to 1900 he served as chemist at the Storrs Experiment Station in Connecticut. In 1897 he married Cornelia Golay of Brewster, Maine, a Vassar graduate who majored in biology. This training enabled her to share with her husband in the conduct of several physiological studies in the Nutrition Laboratory which were published jointly. She co-authored many of Benedict's published studies in physiology in later years.

While at Wesleyan, Benedict built a number of calorimeters, including the closed circuit respiration apparatus and calorimeter. As a result of his work, he was selected by the Carnegie Institution of Washington as the first director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory in 1907, where he continued to construct calorimeters, including the Benedict Apparatus which measured basal metabolism. He held this position for 30 years.

Benedict was also involved in the development of metabolism studies based on age, sex, height, and weight, and collaborated with Elliott Proctor Joslin (1869-1962) on an intensive study of respiratory metabolism in diabetes. Traveling to Christian Bohr's laboratory in Copenhagen in 1907, he met August Krogh who won the 1920 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The next summer, Benedict accompanied Krogh to Greenland to measure excretion of Eskimos.

In 1918 Benedict joined with Professor Ernest George Ritzman (1875–) of the University of New Hampshire at Durham in devising and constructing a respiration apparatus large enough for studies with cattle. Here the investigators drew on the experience of Henry Prentiss Armsby (1853-1921) who had constructed and operated for some ten years, at Pennsylvania State College, a respiration calorimeter for farm animals. Armsby visited Durham to advice on the progress of the work. This New Hampshire apparatus for large farm animals was the first of its kind in the United States and became the forerunner of others constructed elsewhere for indirect calorimetry. The first study made dealt with undernutrition in steers. The results showed that animals which suffered heavy losses in weight during the winter on submaintenance rations could be restored to satisfactory market quality by fattening rations. This initial study was followed by ten others with cattle, sheep and swine over a period of some 15 years.

Benedict's investigations included mammals both domestic and wild, ranging in size from the 8-gram dwarf mouse to a 4,000-pound elephant. The reptiles studied included a python, alligators, lizards and tortoises. Several species and races of birds were also included in the investigations. For several of the species Benedict had to design special equipment, either respiration chambers or some type of face mask.

After retirement, Benedict turned to his lifelong interest of magic and became active on the college lecture circuit. In lectures, Benedict's art of showmanship enabled him to present his story in a very interesting manner, illustrated with lantern slides and anecdotes. Both before and after he retired he went on tours throughout the country where he lectured at various universities, on such topics as The Physiology of the Elephant, Magic and Science, Animal Metabolism from Mouse to Elephant.

Benedict was a member of the Society of American Magicians and performed professionally from 1938-1942. The Benedicts' summer house in Machiasport, Maine became their fulltime residence after Benedict's retirement although winters were spent in warmer climates

  • Leonard Amby Maynard 1887-1972):
    Francis Gano Benedict--a biographical sketch (1870-1957).
    The Journal of Nutrition, Philadelphia, May, 1969, 98 (1): 1-8.

  • E. DuBois and O. Riddle:
    Biographical memoirs.
    National Academy of Science, Washington, 1958, 32: 67-78.
    Lists some 300 of B enedict's publications

  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

  • Harvard Medical Library and Boston Medical Library.

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