Dr. W. Grey Walter (cont)

wgwimage     Ray Cooper, the last director of the Burden Neurological Institute, wrote this bio on Grey Walter  for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ( http://www.oxforddnb.com ) . (William) Grey Walter (1910-1977),  Walter, (William) Grey (1910-1977), neurophysiologist, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 19 February 1910, the only child of Karl Wilhelm Walter (1880-1965), a British journalist then working on the Kansas City Star, and his wife, Minerva Lucrezia (Margaret) Hardy (1879-1953), an American journalist. His parents had met and married in Italy, where they spent much of their lives. During the First World War they moved from the United States to Britain, where Grey Walter spent the rest of his life. He was educated at Westminster School (1922-8), where he specialized in classics and then in science, which he continued at King's College, Cambridge, from 1928. He took a third class in part one (1930) and a first class in physiology in part two of the natural sciences tripos (1931), and went on to do postgraduate research on nerve physiology and conditioned reflexes. His MA dissertation on `Conduction in nerve and muscle' was accepted in 1935.  Walter then joined Professor F. L. Golla, an eminent neurologist who was director of the central pathological laboratories at the Maudsley Hospital. Golla wanted to apply the new method of investigating the brain by recording its electrical activity (electroencephalogram or EEG) to clinical problems and was able to provide various types of patients for Walter to study. In 1936 a patient thought to be suffering from schizophrenia was found to have abnormal activity in the EEG and then discovered to have a cerebral tumour. Recordings done in the operating theatre confirmed that the activity was associated with the tumour. Between 1936 and 1939 many hundreds of patients were investigated; those with epilepsy were shown to have abnormal activity in the EEG between attacks.  In 1939 Golla and Walter moved to Bristol to open the Burden Neurological Institute as a research centre in neuropsychiatry. There Walter made many novel instruments to analyse the EEG. On-line frequency analysis was developed in 1943, sensory stimuli used to provoke abnormal activity in the EEG in 1947, and the toposcope to analyse the frequency and phase structure of the EEG in 1950. The work on conditioning went on and in the early 1960s led to the discovery of the contingent negative variation, which became a subject of study throughout the world. Walter also developed models that mimicked brain systems and this involved him with Norbert Wiener and others in early work on cybernetics. His `tortoises', displayed at the Festival of Britain in 1951, were designed to show the interaction of two sensory systems: light-sensitive and touch-sensitive control mechanisms (in effect, two nerve cells with visual and tactile inputs). These systems interacted with the motor drive in such a way that the `animals' exhibited `behaviour', finding their way round obstacles, for example.  Walter was a fluent speaker and writer, on general as well as technical subjects. He was fluent in French, Italian, and German. He was the author of 170 scientific publications and gave a number of important lectures. He relished making broadcasts and giving talks; he was a frequent guest on BBC television's The Brains trust. He wrote two books: The Living Brain (1953), which was popular science and was the first introduction that many people had to the brain, and a science fiction novel, Further Outlook (1956), which was not very successful. He was awarded an ScD by Cambridge in 1947, and in 1949 was made a professor of the University of Aix-Marseilles. In 1974 he was awarded the Oliver-Sharpey prize of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1975, the Electroencephalographic Society, of which he was a founder member, commemorated his achievements by striking a Grey Walter medal, `to be presented … in recognition of outstanding services to clinical neurophysiology'. He was the first recipient of the medal.    A member of the Cambridge Apostles from 1933, he was a communist supporter before and during the war but later became more sympathetic, first to anarchism, and then to syndicalism. He was an active member of tile Association of Scientific Workers. He was involved in the peace movement, being a member of the Peace Pledge Union in the 1930s and the Bristol committee of 100 in the 1960s; but was never a pacifist, and he served in the Home Guard during the Second World War. A firm atheist, he was interested in, though unconvinced by, the paranormal, and also did research on hypnosis. In 1934 Walter married Katharine Monica (b. 1911), younger daughter of Samuel Kerkharn Ratcliffe, a British journalist and lecturer; they separated in 1945 and divorced in 1946. They had two sons, Nicolas, who became a journalist and lecturer, and Jeremy, who became a physicist. In 1947 he married Vivian Joan (1915-1980), daughter of John Dovey, colour manufacturer. She was a colleague for many years. They separated in 1960; they had one son, Timothy (1949-1976). From 1960 to 1972 he lived with Lorraine Josephine, daughter of Mr Donn, property developer, and former wife of Keith Aldridge. In 1970 he suffered severe brain damage in a road accident which effectively ended his career. For forty years he had been at the forefront of research on the living brain, using its electrical activity to chart normal and abnormal function. He died of a heart attack at his home at Flat 2, 20 Richmond Park Road, Clifton, Bristol, on 6 May 1977 and was cremated on 12 May. TRIVIA: After Grey Walter had his road accident, he wrote about it in a paper called "My Miracle" now in the BNI Archive located at the British Science Museum Archives in Wroughton, Swindon.  In the document, he talks about how he got interested in motor scooters (Italian Vespa's, actually). Here's some dot points from the article:

  • Vespa 125cc scooter – over 20 years ago prior to accident. ie summer of '47. For reduction in transport costs.
  • accident  with horse. Unconscious from June 13 for about 3 weeks.
  • 60 y/o at time of accident.
  • Son Timothy about to start 3rd  yr at Cambridge. Discovered at start of 1st year that Timothy had muscular dystrophy.
  • Mention of lack of alpha brain waves in WGW.
  • 15 in every 100 have no alpha waves.
  • "My experience of what is now called "electronics" is even longer – over 50 years since my father and I started to make "wireless" sets in 1919, before there was any broadcasting in Britain."

Here's the address of the :- Science Museum Library and Archives Science Museum at Wroughton Hackpen Lane Wroughton SWINDON SN4 9NS www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/library DSCF0137

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