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George Wald (November 18, 1906 – April 12, 1997) was an American scientist who is best known for his work with pigments in the retina. He won a share of the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragnar Granit.
As a postdoctoral researcher, Wald discovered that vitamin A was a component of the retina. His further experiments showed that when the pigment rhodopsin was exposed to light, it yielded the protein opsin and a compound containing vitamin A. This suggested that vitamin A was essential in retinal function.
In the 1950s, Wald and his colleagues used chemical methods to extract pigments from the retina. Then, using a spectrophotometer, they were able to measure the light absorbance of the pigments. Since the absorbance of light by retina pigments corresponds to the wavelengths that best activate photoreceptor cells, this experiment showed the wavelengths that the eye could best detect. However, since rod cells make up most of the retina, what Wald and his colleagues were specifically measuring was the absorbance of rhodopsin, the main photopigment in rods. Later, with a technique called microspectrophotometry, he was able to measure the absorbance directly from cells, rather than from an extract of the pigments. This allowed Wald to determine the absorbance of pigments in the cone cells (Goldstein, 2001).
Wald was born in New York City to Isaac Wald and Ernestine Rosenmann, Jewish immigrant parents. He was a member of the first graduating class of the Brooklyn Technical High School in New York in 1922. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from New York University in 1927 and his PhD in zoology from Columbia University in 1932. After graduating, he received a travel grant from the US National Research Council. Wald used this grant to work in Germany with Otto Heinrich Warburg where he identified vitamin A in the retina. Wald then went on to work in Zurich, Switzerland with the discoverer of vitamin A, Paul Karrer. Wald then worked briefly with Otto Fritz Meyerhof in Heidelberg, Germany, but left Europe for the University of Chicago in 1933 when Adolf Hitler came to power and life in Europe became more dangerous for Jews. In 1934, Wald went to Harvard University where he became an instructor, then a professor. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1950 and in 1967 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries in vision.
Wald spoke out on many political and social issues and his fame as a Nobel laureate brought national and international attention to his views. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race.
With a small number of other Nobel laureates, he was invited in 1986 to fly to Moscow to advise Mikhail Gorbachev on a number of environmental questions. While there, he questioned Gorbachev about the arrest, detention and exile to Gorki of Yelena Bonner and her husband, fellow Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, (Peace, 1975). Wald reported that Gorbachev said he knew nothing about it. Bonner and Sakharov were released shortly thereafter, in December, 1986.
Wald died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Goldstein, B. 2001. Sensation and Perception, 6th ed. London: Wadsworth.
- Dowling, John E (December 2002). George Wald, 18 November 1906 - 12 April 1997. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 146 (4): 431–9.
- Hubbard, R, Wald E (1999). George Wald memorial talk. Novartis Found. Symp. 224: 5–18; discussion 18–20.
- Raju, T N (August 1999). The Nobel Chronicles. 1967: George Wald (1906-97); Ragnar A Granit (1900-91); and Haldan Keffer Hartline (1903-83). Lancet 354 (9178): 605.
- Jukes, T H (July 1997). George Wald believed in apocalypse now. Nature 388 (6637): 13.
- Dowling, J E (May. 1997). George Wald (1906-97). Nature 387 (6631): 356.
- (August 1985). Nutrition classics. The Journal of General Physiology, Volume eighteenth 1935: Vitamin A in eye tissues. By George Wald. Nutr. Rev. 43 (8): 244–6.
- Dowling, J E, Wald G (March 1981). Nutrition classics. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 46, 1960: The biological function of vitamin A acid: John E. Dowling and George Wald. Nutr. Rev. 39 (3): 134–8.
- Sulek, K (July 1969). [Nobel prize for George Wald, Haldan Keffer Hartline and Ragner Granit in 1967 for discoveries concerning the primary biochemical and physiological phenomena occurring in the process of vision]. Wiad. Lek. 22 (13): 1258–9.
- Bouman, M A (January 1968). [Ragnar Garnit, Haldan Keffer Hartline, George Wald, winners of the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine]. Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde 112 (1): 23–5.
- Mikulski, T (1968). [Noble laureate prize in the field of medicine for 1967: G. Wald, R. Granit, and H. K. Hartline]. Postepy Biochem. 14 (3): 473.
- Dolwing, J E, Ratliff F (October 1967). Nobel prize: 3 named for medicine, physiology award (George Wald, Ragnar Granit and Haldan Keffer Hartline). Science 158 (800): 468–73.
- (November 1955). GEORGE WALD. Am. J. Ophthalmol. 40 (5 Part 2): 4–7.
- Nobel Prize Biography
- A remembrance by fellow biologist John Dowling
- A remembrance by his son Elijah
- Papers of George Wald : an inventory
Two of George Wald's speeches can be read on-line:
1951: Theiler | 1952: Waksman | 1953: Krebs, Lipmann | 1954: Enders, Weller, Robbins | 1955: Theorell | 1956: Cournand, Forssmann, Richards | 1957: Bovet | 1958: Beadle, Tatum, Lederberg | 1959: Ochoa, Kornberg | 1960: Burnet, Medawar | 1961: Békésy | 1962: Crick, Watson, Wilkins | 1963: Eccles, Hodgkin, Huxley | 1964: Bloch, Lynen | 1965: Jacob, Lwoff, Monod | 1966: Rous, Huggins | 1967: Granit, Hartline, Wald | 1968: Holley, Khorana, Nirenberg | 1969: Delbrück, Hershey, Luria | 1970: Katz, Euler, Axelrod | 1971: Sutherland | 1972: Edelman, Porter | 1973: Frisch, Lorenz, Tinbergen | 1974: Claude, Duve, Palade | 1975: Baltimore, Dulbecco, Temin
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