November 23, 1903 - October 3, 1995

Born in St. Louis, Francis O. Schmitt received his AB degree in 1924 and PhD degree in medical science in 1927 from Washington University. His father had wanted him to be a surgeon, but Dr. Schmitt, fascinated by physical chemistry and physiology, ceased his medical studies to concentrate on those fields. Thus began the path that led him to become internationally recognized as a pioneer in biological research and in the study of the brain.

Dr. Schmitt did advanced study at the University of California at Berkeley, University College in London, and Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (now Max Planck Institute) in Berlin. Appointed to the faculty of Washington University in 1929 and later head of the Department of Zoology, he established prominence in using polarization optics and x-ray diffraction to explore cellular infrastructure.

As this new kind of biology emerged, focusing on the molecular level, Dr. Schmitt accepted a call in 1941 from MIT President K.T. Compton to head the Institute's Department of Biology. From this platform, he provided critical leadership in developing modern life science at MIT, such as pioneering the use of the electron microscope in biomolecular research; and also in Boston's research hospitals, serving more than 40 years as a trustee of Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital. When he was appointed Institute Professor in 1955, he concluded his long service as department head and devoted his energies to his research unit.

Foreseeing what he considered the last frontier of science, the exploration of the brain and neural function, in 1962 he established the interdisciplinary Neurosciences Research Program (NRP) which he chaired until 1974 and continued to advise until it moved from MIT in 1982. Across those years, he saw his field grow from an unnamed idea to the worldwide enterprise that is neuroscience today.

Supplied by Ken Young
Young Family Archives

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