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Blue plaque tribute to scientific pioneer, DCS researcher

May 5, 2009

 

By Fran Bardsley

Oxford — A Blue Plaque has been put up to commemorate an Oxford man who carried out pioneering research into respiration.

John Scott Haldane famously experimented on himself while investigating decompression sickness – known as ‘the bends’ – as well as the toxic effects of inhaling different gases.

He was the first to look into using canaries in mines to give early warnings of carbon monoxide, and was the first Allied scientist in the trenches during the First World War, to identify what gases were being used on troops.

The plaque was unveiled on Saturday at 11 Crick Road, North Oxford, where he lived and conducted experiments between 1891 and 1899.

Dr Martin Goodman, who wrote an account of Mr Haldane’s work, published in 2007, said: “It is a great honour.

“He gave all his working life to Oxford and it is tremendous that Oxford is honouring him in this way.”

Mr Haldane’s achievements included helping devise the first gas masks.

He devised the Haldane tables, a scheme of staged decompression, which meant deep sea diving was possible for the first time without divers suffering from the bends.

The scientist, who lived between 1860 and 1936, also designed the first space suit, and was included as a character in a novel by author Aldous Huxley – who had lived with Mr Haldane and his wife for many years.

His children, geneticist JBS Haldane and novelist Naomi Mitchison, spent their earliest years at Crick Road.

Mr Haldane’s more famous residence, Cherwell, in Linton Road, North Oxford, was demolished to make way for Wolfson College.

Dr Goodman said: “I think he is phenomenally important. He led the whole path into looking at public health, which he was one of the earliest exponents of.

“He did it in one of the bravest ways possible, by always experimenting on himself.”

Mr Haldane drank every mixture of toxic gases to compare his symptoms with those of miners, to work out what they were suffering from. And, despite not being able to swim, jumped into the sea in a deep sea diving suit as part of his investigations.

Dr Goodman said: “He died in an oxygen tent – which only came about because of him.”

Mr Haldane’s was the 45th Oxfordshire Blue Plaque . Others are dedicated to the likes of Sir John Betjeman, CS Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, William Morris and JRR Tolkein.

www.oxfordmail.co.uk

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