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Martin William Flack

Born 1882-03-20
Died 1931-08-16

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British physiologist, born March 20, 1882, Borden, Kent; died August 16, 1931, Halton, England.

Biography of Martin William Flack

Martin William Flack was born in the village of Borden, Kent. His family was poor and he had to support his education by bursaries and scholarships, which he attained throughout his undergraduate career. He commenced studying medicine at Oxford University and then did his clinical work at London Hospital where his potential was recognised by Sir Leonard Hill (1866-1952) and Sir Arthur Keith with whom he collaborated in the work on the sino-auricular node.

He worked with Sir Leonard Hill on the physiology of respiration and following his graduation in 1909 he attained a fellowship which enabled him to work with the German physiologist Hugo Kronecker (1839-1914) in Bern and also with professor Léon Fredericq (1851-1935) in Lüttich, capital of the Belgian province Liège. He was a demonstrator of anatomy at the London Hospital Medical College from 1905-1911, and from 1911 to 1914 lecturer of physiology.

He returned to work with Hill on the physiology of the heart and respiration. From 1914 to 1919 he was on the research staff of the Medical Research Council) which the air ministry had recently established, and in 1919 was appointed director of medical research, Royal Air Force. Here he made a number of notable contributions including the supply of oxygen to pilots who were flying at high altitudes, and in setting up a pro forma for a series of tests to establish the physical fitness of flyers. This approach was adopted by many air forces in different parts of the world. Apart from first discovering the anatomy of the auricular node, he first proved the function of the node by showing that local cooling caused dramatic lowering of the heart rate. As a child, Flack had rheumatic fever, which left valvular lesions, and he developed subacute bacterial endocarditis and after a protracted illness died.

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