Jasper, Herbert Henri 1906 - 1999

American; Canadian

(1906-1999), neurologist

Herbert Henri Jasper was born in La Grande, Oregon on 27 July 1906. He was educated at Reed College, Portland before gaining his first Ph.D. at the University of Iowa in 1931. After graduating, Jasper obtained a Rockefeller Fellowship and studied neurology in Paris, before returning to work at the EEG Laboratory of Brown University, New York. In 1935, he published the first American paper on human electroencephalography (the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain) in the journal Science.

After hearing about the experiments of neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield (1891-1976) at the Montreal Neurological Institute, which involved electrically stimulating the brains of conscious but anaesthetised patients to ‘map out’ the cerebral cortex, Jasper and his colleagues invited Penfield to lecture at the Psychology Department of Brown University and visit their EEG laboratory. This began a career-long collaboration between Jasper and Penfield, uniting their electroencephalographic and neurosurgical expertise in the treatment of temporal lobe epilepsy. Penfield later invited Jasper to join him in Montreal and establish the Institute’s EEG Department, which opened in January 1939.

Later in 1939, Jasper enrolled as a medical student at McGill University, finishing the concentrated wartime curriculum in three years. In 1944, he was required to fulfil his military service in the Canadian Army (although he retained his American citizenship until deciding to stay in Canada permanently in 1950). After the war, Jasper’s EEG Laboratory in Montreal grew exponentially, with over 100 research fellows joining between 1945 and 1955, and a broadening programme of epilepsy investigations.

In the late 1950s, Jasper played a key role in the creation of the International Brain Research Organisation (IBRO), and became its first Executive Secretary in 1960. During the Cold War, IBRO provided a platform for closer collaboration between Western and Soviet neuroscientists. In 1965, Jasper moved to the University of Montreal, broadening his research into areas such as the neurochemistry of sleep as well as continuing his work on epilepsy and seizure patterns.

Jasper remained active in research up to a few months before his death. He died of a heart attack on 11 March 1999.