Friday, June 5, 2009

Ichiji Tasaki (1910-2009)

Ichiji Tasaki (1910-2009) died January 4 in Bethesda, Maryland. Tasaki was known for his discovery in 1939 of saltatory conduction of action potentials in a myelinated nerve axon. You can learn more about myelinated fibers and saltatory conduction in the 4th Edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

Tasaki had a long and fascinating career in science. His life is described in an obituary published in the May 2009 issue of Neuroscience Research. He is also featured in an article of the NIH Record, the weekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

I knew Tasaki when I was working at NIH in the 1990s. Late in his career he worked with my friend Peter Basser in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. I recall him working every day in his laboratory, despite being in his 80s, with his wife as his assistant. He led a fascinating life. His best known research on saltatory conduction was performed in Japan just before and during World War II. After the war, he spent over 50 years at NIH.

Basser describes Tasaki as "a scientist’s scientist, never afraid to question current dogma, always digging deeper to discover the truth." Congressman Chris van Hollen of Maryland paidtribute to Tasaki a few months before he died, beginning "Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize the outstanding achievements of my constituent Dr. Ichiji Tasaki. Dr. Tasaki has worked at the National Institutes of Health for 54 years, since November 1953, and has made invaluable contributions to the scientific community."

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