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John Scott Haldane (1860-1936)

J S Haldane was born in Edinburgh in 1860. He attended Edinburgh University and the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, and graduated in medicine at Edinburgh University in 1884.

Medical research has become more important to the practice of war. J S Haldane was not a medical practitioner, rather a medical researcher. In the late 1890s he introduced small animals in coal mines to warn miners of the presence of dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide - these animals were more sensitive than humans to such gases, which if not detected would slowly poison the miners.

During the First World War (1914-18) Haldane was asked to identify the type of gas that the Germans had used in the first gas attack of the war. Haldane found it was chlorine. Both sides used gas and it was much feared by the soldiers. In order to protect the soldiers, Haldane designed the first gas masks, which proved better than the urine-soaked handkerchiefs that the soldiers had used at first. Haldane also demonstrated the value of oxygen in treating soldiers when they were gassed. Science and medicine worked together to prevent an enormous number of casualties from gas attack on the western front during the First World War.

 

Bibliography

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2005)

S Sturdy, ‘From the trenches to the hospitals at home: physiologists, clinicians and oxygen therapy’, in J V Pickstone (ed.), Medical Innovations in Historical Perspective (Hampshire: Macmillan, 1992)

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