John Zachary Young (18 March, 1907 – 4 July, 1997), generally known as 'JZ', was an English zoologist and neurophysiologist, described as

"one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century ... He had a huge presence, imposing stature and enormous energy and enthusiasm for his research and for the imaginative understanding and interpretation of the nervous system and brain function."[1]

Young went to school at Marlborough College, an independent school in Wiltshire, England.

He was Professor of Anatomy at University College London, 1945-1974, then Professor Emeritus (Hon. Fellow, 1975).

1928 - first class honours degree in zoology - Magdalen College, Oxford.

1945 - elected a Fellow of the Royal Society

1973 - Linnean Medal (Gold Medal) for Zoology from the Linnean Society of London

1991 - honorary citizenship of the city of Naples, Italy

Research work Edit

Most of his scientific research was on the nervous system. He discovered the squid giant axon and the corresponding squid giant synapse. His work in the 1930s on signal transmission in, and the fibre structure of, nerves inspired the work of Sir Andrew Huxley and Sir Alan Hodgkin for which they received a Nobel prize.

During World War II, responding to the large number of nerve injuries sustained by soldiers in combat and by his pioneering work in comparative anatomy and the regrowth of damaged nerves in squids and octopuses, Young set up a unit at the University of Oxford to study nerve regeneration in mammals. His wartime team, investigating the biochemical conditions which control nerve fibre growth, also sought ways to accelerate the repair of peripheral nerves severed by injury. Working with Peter Medawar, Young found a way to rejoin small peripheral nerves using a "glue" of plasma. This method was eventually modified and used in surgery.

After the war, Young's research interests turned to investigating the central nervous system and the functions of the brain. Continuing to experiment on squids, octopuses and other cephalopods, Young found that they could be trained to respond in specific ways to visual stimuli.

However, he is probably best remembered for his two textbooks, The Life of Vertebrates and The Life of Mammals.

He was an enthusiastic rambler, and carried on rambling almost until his death.

A memorial service was held for him in the Chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford on 9 November 1997.


Young traveled to Naples for many years, for his summer experimenting season, at the Stazione Zoologica di Napoli which he had first known as a student occupying the Oxford research ‘Table’. In Naples, he was known as "Professore" at his favorite restaurants. Young was awarded an honorary citizenship by the City of Naples for his services to science, in particular for the studies he conducted at the Stazione. Young was also awarded the Stazione’s Gold Medal by the President of the Stazione Zoologica at a concert given in his honour in October 1991. In 1991 he was invited by the Italian Biological Society to make an anniversary lecture, when he was the oldest living member of the society; for this lecture, Young picked the same subject he had talked about 63 years earlier, in 1928.


  • The Life of Vertebrates, 1950, 3rd ed 1981
  • Doubt and Certainty in Science, 1951
  • The Life of Mammals, 1957
  • A Model of the Brain, 1964
  • The Memory System of the Brain, 1966
  • An Introduction to the Study of Man, 1971
  • The Anatomy of the Nervous System of Octopus vulgaris, 1971
  • Programs of the Brain, 1978
  • Philosophy and the Brain, 1987
  • Many scientific papers, mostly on the nervous system.

Quote Edit

What would be the use of a neuroscience that cannot tell us anything about love? (quoted in The Spectator, Apr 9, 2005; page 44)

References Edit

  1. The Guardian; July 14, 1997, p13
  • Who's Who (UK)
  • Obituary, The Times; July 9, 1997; p. 21
  • Obituary, The Independent; Jul 8, 1997; p. 14

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