Lives of the fellows

Richard Hume, Second Baron Adrian of Cambridge Adrian

b.16 October 1927 d.4 April 1995
MA MB BChir Cantab(1951) MD(1978) FRS(1977) FRCP(1987)

Richard Hume Adrian was one of the outstanding muscle physiologists of his generation, making important contributions in two areas of research: the elucidation of the electrical phenomena and ion movements characteristic of muscle fibres, and the understanding of the mechanism of activation of contraction in muscle by change in the membrane potential. Of particular relevance to clinical neurology, with M W Marshall, he demonstrated by computer simulation that reduction of permeability of the muscle membrane to chloride ions (which was known to exist in myotonia) would result in a repetitive discharge resembling that seen in the myotonic diseases.

Adrian was born in Cambridge into a distinguished academic family: his father was E D Adrian, first baron Adrian of Cambridge [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.3], Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, and an outstanding figure in the history of neurophysiology. His mother made a distinguished contribution to mental health services.

Richard Adrian spent part of the Second World War in the United States. He completed his schooling at Westminster and in 1945 went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read medicine. After gaining a first in both parts of the tripos he went to University College Hospital and graduated in 1951. It was already clear to him that he wished to go into physiology, and after two years of National Service he returned to Cambridge to study with A L Hodgkin. He held a succession of University posts, culminating in his appointment to a personal chair of cell physiology in 1978. He held fellowships at Corpus Christi and Churchill College, and was elected master of Pembroke in 1981, a post he occupied for eleven years. During this time he served as vice-chancellor for two years. He had entered the House of Lords on the death of his father in 1977. There, informed by his experience as vice-chancellor, he played an important part in the debates surrounding the Education Reform Act of 1988, successfully urging the limitation of Government intrusion into academic affairs. At Cambridge he encouraged the setting up of the Development Office to provide the University with independent funding. During this period, as a member of the Physiological Society and the Home Office’s advisory committee on animal experiments, as well as the House of Lords, he played an important part in the development of the new Government legislation relating to animal experiments.

Richard Adrian was excellent company, being both a good listener and a good talker. He was ever helpful to those who sought his advice. His interests ranged widely, encompassing archaeology, history, literature and craftsmanship; he was good with his hands, building a boat and repairing furniture, as well as being technically innovative in the laboratory. His outside appointments reflected this range: he was a trustee of the British Museum, a member of the board of the British Library, a member (and prime warden 1990 to 1991) of the Goldsmiths’ Company, as well as serving on the Medical Research Council, the General Medical Council and the council of the Royal Society. He was elected to honorary fellowships of Darwin and Churchill Colleges.

Adrian married Lucy Caroe in 1967. She brought connections with other Cambridge academic families, those of Sir William and Sir Lawrence Bragg and Sir J J Thomson; likewise the marriage of his twin sister Jennet to R D Keynes brought yet other connections, with John Maynard and Sir Geoffrey Keynes [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.319] and the Darwins. Lord and Lady Adrian’s marriage was an extremely happy and successful one. They had no children.

W I McDonald

[The Daily Telegraph, 13 Apr 1995; The Independent, 8 Apr 1995; The Times, 8 Apr 1995; Brit.med.J., 1995,310,1 133]

(Volume X, page 2)

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