A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

The Past is Present


1785: Benjamin Waterhouse is named the College of Rhode Island's first professor of natural history. At Brown he will present the nation's first comprehensive series of public lectures on natural history. He is known as the "Jenner of North America" after he receives a supply of Jenner's smallpox vaccine and administers it to his family. He will go on to introduce vaccination throughout New England.1885: A spacious new biological laboratory opens in Rhode Island Hall. By the end of the century, the edifice is stuffed to capacity, with Jenks Museum of Natural History specimens covering the windows and the osteological collection in the attic. In 1904, an addition is built to replace "the lean-to where live animals were kept."1890: Professor of Anatomy Hermon Carey Bumpus, Class of 1884, involves undergraduates in his research, a novel practice for the time. He is a pioneer in the science of biometry, the application of statistics to biology, which he uses to illustrate Darwin's theory of natural selection in College Hill sparrows (see Brown Medicine, Winter 2011). He later becomes president of Tufts College.1900: Charles V. Chapin is first an instructor in physiology at Brown and then professor from 1886 to 1895. He serves as superintendent of health in Providence, during which time the death rate in the city drops 30 percent and infant mortality is reduced by 50 percent. He makes important contributions in the areas of child health, immunization, water purification, prevention of contagious diseases, and treatment of tuberculosis.1903: Ada G. Wing, front row in the mortarboard, is appointed in 1896 as instructor of biology and hygiene in the Women's College and is Brown's first female faculty member. Biology is customarily taught to women by women at this time.1915: Arnold Laboratory is built on Waterman Street for $80,000, funded by a bequest of Oliver H. Arnold, MD, Class of 1865. At a time when faculty live on campus, it provides quarters for four professors and one woman instructor.1937: At left is Miss Edna G. Myers, superintendent of nurses. A nursing program begins in 1931, offered jointly by Pembroke College and the Rhode Island Hospital Training School for Nurses. The last degree in nursing is awarded in June 1964.1940: Among the treasures in the Multidisciplinary Laboratories are microscopes, each housed in its own velvet-lined wooden box. (Credit: Erik Gould)1940: The microtome blade was used to slice tissue to place on slides. (Credit: Erik Gould)1940: The strop kept the microtome blade razor-sharp. (Credit: Erik Gould)1953: As part of a post-war expansion, Elizabeth H. Leduc PhD'48, joins Brown in 1953, and becomes the first female full professor in biology and the third female full professor at the University. She pioneers new methodologies in cytochemistry and the use of water-soluble embedding media and ultrathin frozen sections for electron microscopy. In 1973 she is named dean of the Division of Biological and Medical Sciences and Frank L. Day Professor of Biology.Kathy Patenaude, director of the Multidisciplinary Labs, believes that the bone collection that packs two full rooms in the BMC originally belonged to George E. Erikson, professor of medical science from 1965 to 1990, co-chairman of the section of population biology, morphology, and genetics, and the first anatomy instructor for the Program in Medicine. Here, the lifelike monkeys look poised to leap. (Credit: Erik Gould)1965: All sizes of animals are represented, from the hedgehog to the elephant. (Credit: Erik Gould).1965: The tiny hedgehog skull. (Credit: Erik Gould)1965: A chimpanzee reveals its eerie similarity to humans. (Credit: Erik Gould)1968: Pierre Galletti is appointed chair of the new Division of Biological and Medical Sciences. He is the author of the first comprehensive book on the principles and techniques of heart-lung bypass, the standard work in the field. In 1972. he becomes University vice president (biology and medicine).1970: Glass cabinets in the BMC boast an impressive array of plastic teaching models. They are still used in courses like Vertebrate Embryology and Analysis of Development. (Credit: Erik Gould)1970: (Credit: Erik Gould)1970: (Credit: Erik Gould)2015: Every day, Kathy Patenaude and her staff make sure all of the teaching labs are set up for the correct section of each course. Armed with rolling metal carts, they lay out the experiments, tools, and materials at the right time for the right instructor. Bet they look forward to summer, right? Nope. That's when thousands of Summer@Brown middle-and high-school students descend, and the whole balletic operation takes on an even faster pace. Patenaude, who has been at Brown for more than 35 years, does it all wearing this smile. (Credit: Erik Gould)2015: Axolotls like the Multidisciplinary Lab's pet, Oscar, are nearly extinct in their native Mexico, but they thrive in captivity as a valuable model organism. Their large embryos are ideal for studying vertebrate development. (Credit: Erik Gould)2015: Used by students and instructors in several classes, this fluorescent stereomicroscope has an attached camera system that allows the user to dissect animals and plants under the microscope observing a 3-D image and then to photograph those images. This squid is ready for its close-up. (Credit: Erik Gould)

Spelunking. That’s what Brown Medicine intern Josephine Benson ’17 called our trip down into the basement of the Bio-Medical Center (BMC). Overshadowed by the Sidney E. Frank Hall for Life Sciences, its younger, glitzier neighbor, and housing a hodgepodge of tenants now that the Medical School has its own home, the BMC still has an important place both in the history and the present of the life sciences at Brown. And much of that history lives in its dark and crowded basement.

Our visit was prompted by planning for the Day of Biology, on March 7, 2015. This is bio’s birthday bash, part of Brown’s 250th anniversary. There’s much to celebrate; even in Brown’s first 100 years, natural history and physiology played major roles, shaping both the sciences at the University and this fledgling country.

What’s amazing is how the past and the present collide in the BMC, as our tour guide, Kathy Patenaude, director of the Multidisciplinary Labs, revealed to us. “Want to see our museum?” she said, walking through the fluorescent-lit lab where her team preps reagents and samples for the day’s bio classes. This “museum” is a shelf within this room, which houses about 20 antique microscopes. They are gorgeous—and entirely out of place.

We scoured Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana, the Brown Library’s Digital Repository, the web-based history of biology and medicine that was created a few years ago . We consulted previous historical essays that have appeared in this magazine, and have links to them if you’d like to learn more.

This is a highlight reel, not a comprehensive history. It’s enough to give you a taste of the Division of Biology and Medicine’s storied past, with some delights and surprises along the way.

Links: Professor Herman Bumpus’s Sparrows, Benjamin Waterhouse: Smallpox in the New World


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