Adrian, Edgar Douglas 1889 - 1977


(1889-1977) 1st Baron Adrian, physiologist

Edgar Douglas Adrian was born in London on 30 November 1889 to parents Alfred Douglas Adrian and Flora Lavinia Barton. He was educated at Westminster School before taking the Natural Sciences Tripos at Trinity College, Cambridge. His research on the nerve impulse with his supervisor, physiologist Keith Lucas (1879-1916), won him a fellowship at Trinity College in 1913.

During the First World War, Adrian abandoned research to complete a medical degree at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and he subsequently worked on nerve injuries and shell shock at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square and Connaught Military Hospital, Aldershot. In 1919, he returned to his research at Cambridge and conducted several pioneering studies in electrophysiology and neurology.

In the 1930s, Adrian became increasingly interested in the electrical rhythms of the nervous system and wrote several foundational papers in the burgeoning field of electroencephalography (the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain), including a 1934 paper with B.H.C. Matthews (1906-1986) which confirmed the findings of German physiologist and EEG founder Hans Berger (1873-1941). His research agenda expanded during the Second World War, with investigations into balance, spatial orientation, touch, pain, and smell.

Adrian became Professor of Physiology at Cambridge in 1937 and master of Trinity College in 1951, and occupied a number of prestigious positions in universities and societies in the following decades, including President of the Royal Society (1950-1955) and the Royal Society of Medicine (1960-1961), and Chancellor of the University of Leicester (1957-1971) and the University of Cambridge (1968-1975), as well as taking part in a number of cross-benches on academic, medical, and scientific issues in the House of Lords.

Adrian married Hester Agnes Pinsent (1899-1966) in 1923, with whom he had three children. He died in Cambridge on 4 August 1977.