Loren D. Carlson

41st APS President (1968-1969)
Loren D. Carlson

The APS Fall Meeting in Davis, California, in August 1969 was a delightful occasion, especially for participants from other parts of the country who envy colleagues able to live and work in California. Loren Carlson was unofficial host for all guests and provided his usual efficient management of all that took place. He also delivered the past president's address (10). Beginning with the observation that the souvenir volume for the IUPS Congress of the preceding year had been Cannon's The Way of an Investigator (1945), Carlson reviewed how science, and especially physiology, had changed in the past twenty-five years. In an editor's note, Ray Daggs explained that the address "was accompanied by an ever-changing series of background slides which served as a backdrop for points being made by the speaker . . . both color photographs and cartoons." The address concluded with this summary:


  • "The way of an investigator has changed.

  • We have passed through an era of "blessedness" when support of research was unquestioned as providing a source of betterment and progress.

  • We are faced with fragmentation of disciplines to subdisciplines.

  • We are increasingly aware that we can no longer live in an ivory tower and insulate ourselves from political, economic and social pressures.

  • We must accept the inevitability of change in university structure from an aristocratic one to a democratic form involving the student and faculty community in its decisions.

  • Somehow, we must change the connotation of the conjunction between teaching and research to teaching with research so that the public and government recognize their inseparable nature in the university."

Because it came near the end of the student unrest that marked the latter half of the 1960s, Carlson's message was particularly appreciated.

Loren Carlson was born in Davenport, Iowa, and graduated from St. Ambrose College there in 1937 with a degree in biology. Four years later (1941) he was awarded the Ph.D. degree in zoology by the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he continued for a year as research associate in physiology. He then joined the professional staff at the Aeromedical Laboratory at Wright Field, Ohio, where he served from 1942 until 1946 as first lieutenant, captain, and then major in the U.S. Army Air Corps. With the end of the war he moved to the University of Washington, at first in zoology, and then from 1946 in the Department of Physiology of the School of Medicine. From 1955 to 1960 he held the rank of professor. During this interval he also served the university in various administrative posts, including Director of General Education (1949-51). In 1960 he began an six-year association with the College of Medicine of the University of Kentucky as the first professor and the founding chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. For a year (1965-66) he was simultaneously chairman of the Department of Zoology.

Carlson's career in science concluded at the University of California at Davis, where from 1966 until his death in 1972 he was chairman of the Division of Sciences Basic to Medicine. Once again he was also the first professor and the founding chairman of the department, this time of human physiology. Being recruited for this faculty early, he had major roles in development of the school and its curriculum. From 1966 to 1969 he served as assistant dean and then became Associate Dean for Research Development and Curricular Affairs. The appointments he held exhibit not only Carlson's commitment to the sciences of zoology and physiology but also his talent for administrative responsibility. Worthy of note is how, although he almost always held some administrative post, he continued virtually full time as a teacher and laboratory investigator.

Honors came to Carlson from many sources. The Alumni Association of St. Ambrose College gave him its Award of Merit in 1967, and in 1969 he received the degree doctor of philosophy honoris causa from the University of Oslo. In that same year he was elected to fellowship in AAAS (Boston). Although he was not a medical graduate, he was elected to charter membership in Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society, in 1972, when the Eta Chapter was established at Davis. Thirteen years later (1985) the university's biology and medical library was renamed the Loren D. Carlson Health Science Library.

Carlson's military service at Wright Field initiated a continuing interest and participation in national scientific affairs, especially in aeromedical problems and space flight. For his contributions he was listed in Who's Who in Space and in Engineers of Distinction, Including Scientists in Related Fields. The U.S. Army Air Corps (later the U.S. Air Force) awarded him the Legion of Merit (1946), the Exceptional Civilian Service Medal (1962), and the Outstanding Achievement Award (1970). He was an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics. For five years (1957-62) he was chairman of the Aeromedical and Biosciences Panel of the Scientific Advisory Board of the U.S. Air Force, while for six years (1961-67) he was a member of two space technology subcommittees of the President's Scientific Advisory Committee. He also served from 1962 in a variety of positions, advisory or consultant, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as well as on several boards and committees of NAS (from 1964). Other related appointments involved the Office of Naval Research (1965-68) and the Aerospace Medical Association (1967-72). If this listing of responsibilities seems to mark a career given almost exclusively to public service, such an impression is mistaken. Through all these obligations Carlson preserved his principal base of activity in his university positions and in his laboratory.

He was a member and/or fellow of many other scientific societies. For example, he was a charter member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and served on its Board of Directors (1970-72), a member of the Board of Trustees of Biological Abstracts (1971-72), and a fellow of AAAS. He was approved for membership in APS in 1945.

Appointed to the Membership Committee, Carlson began his official service for APS from 1962 to 1965, simultaneously with becoming section editor for environmental physiology of the American Journal of Physiology (1962-66). Elected to Council in 1964, three years later he became president elect, in time to serve as president of the Society during the XXIV IUPS Congress in Washington, D.C., and to serve for a year (1969-70) as president of FASEB. He joined the Editorial Committee of the Handbook of Physiology in 1967, and briefly in 1971 he represented the Society on the Council of Academic Societies of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Late in his career Carlson summed up his research interests:

"a series of investigations directed toward a description and understanding of mechanisms involved in adaptation to temperature. Currently, these are directed toward measurements of changes in the response of the peripheral circulation following chronic cold exposure."

"A second program is directed toward understanding of mechanisms involved in the change in the cardiovascular response to tilting or lower body negative pressure following the hypodynamic state, or weightlessness."

Between 1939 and 1941, Carlson published six papers in collaboration with Joseph Hall Bodine, professor of zoology and head of the department at the University of Iowa. The papers carried the running title "Enzymes in ontogenesis (Orthoptera)" and were concerned mainly with activators of protyrosinase (1). One additional study completed before the war analyzed the effect of hydrogen peroxide on frog skin (2). During his years at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Carlson investigated problems of adequate oxygen supply for air crews, and thence for commercial aviation (3). From this he moved to problems of acclimatization (4) that began with a project on cold exposure funded by the Air Force during the winter of 1948-49. In 1954, with W. Cottle, he published the first of a series of papers describing adaptive changes in rats exposed to cold (5). This interest continued until the end of his laboratory career; in one of the last titles in his bibliography, on the calorigenic effect of norepinephrine in newborn rats (12), from 1957 to 1972 he collaborated with Emery and with A. C. L. Hsieh, with whom he had worked since 1957.

With a variety of coauthors, Carlson's complete bibliography lists well over a hundred titles. They include numerous review articles he was invited to prepare on, for example, equipment for providing oxygen, acclimatization to cold, respiratory exchanges, and human performance under stressful conditions. Many are summaries commissioned by the several federal agencies asking about human performance in cold climates. The list also includes papers on combined effects of ionizing radiation and heat or cold on white rats (6). In the early 1960s he published "Requirements for monitoring physiological function in space flight" (7) and "Necessity for biological experimentation in space" (8). Also published in 1963 was the paper that began Carlson's analysis of the relationship between skin temperature and blood flow in a rabbit ear (9). In a sense his scientific work was brought to a climax by publication with Hsieh of the small volume, Control of Energy Exchange (11). In 106 pages it provides both mathematical and block diagram models of energy balance, metabolism, energy expenditure, thermophysiology, and regulation of body temperature. Perhaps its most useful features, however, are appendices that serve as a handbook of reference for anyone interested in these subjects. The last ten pages of the appendix include models of energy exchange as they have been conceived by various investigators.

His past president's address, mentioned above, concluded as follows:

"I can add a happy and optimistic note in this discussion. It is the role of friends at home and abroad. Being a biologist had brought to me the benefits and pleasures of friendships in the United States and in many countries. At home, here in Davis, this has been particularly true for me. As a physiologist and as your president, I am grateful to those of you whom I know for your friendship and, to those of you who attend the business meetings, for your confidence in electing me your president. I accept with some sadness the edict that nothing gets paster faster than a past president."

Perhaps even more clearly than publications, achievements, positions, and honors, these lines disclose the character of Loren Carlson as his friends knew him.

Selected Publications

1. Bodine, J. H., and L. D. Carlson. Enzymes in ontogenesis (Orthoptera). XIV. The action of proteins on certain activators of protyrosinase. J. Gen. Physiol. 24: 423-432, 1941.

2. Marsh, G., and L. D. Carlson. The effect of hydrogen peroxide on the rate of oxygen consumption of frog skin. J. Cell. Comp. Physiol. 22: 99-114, 1943.

3. Carlson, L. D., W. R. Lovelace II, and H. L. Burns. Requirements for oxygen in commercial aviation. Some aspects of its use. J. Aviat. Med. 19: 399-413, 1948.

4. Carlson, L. D., H. L. Burns, T. H. Holmes, and P. P. Webb. Adaptive changes during exposure to cold. J. Appl. Physiol. 5: 672-676, 1953.

5. Cottle, W., and L. D. Carlson. Adaptive changes in rats exposed to cold. Caloric exchange. Am. J. Physiol. 178: 305-308, 1954.

6. Carlson, L. D., and B. H. Jackson. The combined effects of ionizing radiation and high temperature on the longevity of the Sprague-Dawley rat. Radiat. Res. 11: 509-519, 1959.

7. Carlson, L. D. Requirements for monitoring physiological function in space flight. Astronautik 2: 310-321, 1960.

8. Carlson, L. D. The necessity for biological experimentation in space. Adv. Astronaut. Sci. 17: 1-20, 1963.

9. Honda, N., L. D. Carlson, and W. V. Judy. Skin temperature and blood flow in the rabbit ear. Am. J. Physiol. 204: 615-618, 1963.

10. Carlson, L. D. The way of an investigator reanalyzed. Physiologist 12: 425-432, 1969.

11. Carlson, L. D., and A. C. L. Hsieh. Control of Energy Exchange. London: Macmillan, 1970.

12. Hsieh, A. C. L., N. Emery, and L. D. Carlson. Calorigenic effect of norepinephrine in newborn rats. Am. J. Physiol. 221: 1568-1571, 1971.