Jasper, Herbert H. (Herbert Henri), 1906-1999

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Jasper, Herbert H. (Herbert Henri), 1906-1999

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Herbert Henri Jasper was born on July 27, 1906 in La Grande, Oregon, U.S.A. He began his university education studying philosophy and psychology, receiving his B.A. at Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1927, and his M.A. at the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1929. With a burgeoning interest in the human brain in relation to the mind and behaviour, Jasper completed his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Iowa in 1931. At this time he married Constance Cleaver, with whom he had a daughter, Marilyn. His thesis work from Iowa was recognized by an appointment as National Research Council Foreign Fellow, leading to two years of study at the Sorbonne in Paris, from 1931-32, with Alexandre and Andrée Monnier and Louis Lapicque. In 1932, a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation allowed him to establish an EEG laboratory at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he carried out pioneering EEG work and published the first paper in the United States on the human EEG in Science in 1935. During this time he was also a professor in the psychology department. He received his D. és. Sci. from the University of Paris in 1935. Herbert Jasper continued to attend conferences and give lectures until his death on March 11, 1999 from sudden cardiac attack at the age of 92. He is widely recognized as one of the most influential neurophysiologists of the twentieth century.


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An important development in Jasper’s career occurred in 1937, when he met Dr. Wilder Penfield, who had recently established the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI). The two carried out collaborative work, with Jasper at first commuting from Rhode Island with a portable EEG unit, and moving to Montreal in 1938 upon Penfield’s invitation to join the MNI. There, Jasper established a special clinical EEG unit to study epilepsy and mental illness and led the MNI’s neurophysiology and EEG labs from 1939 to 1961; he was also a professor of experimental neurology at McGill University. He enjoyed the lifestyle at the MNI, which in addition to long hours in the lab, included skiing and sailing with Penfield and the other MNI fellows on the weekends. In 1940, he married his second wife Margaret Aileen Goldie, a nurse at the laboratory; they had two children, Stephen and Joan. In order to improve his medical skills with the patients in the EEG Department, Jasper studied medicine at McGill, while concurrently carrying out his research work at the MNI; he received his MDCM from McGill in 1943. He became a Canadian citizen and joined the R.C.A.M.C. in 1943, carrying out wartime research on head injuries and the physiology of air pilot blackouts. One of Jasper’s great achievements at the MNI was the monograph written with Wilder Penfield in 1954, Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain, which became the most popular in the field. In addition to his pioneering work with the EEG, he used microelectrodes to record from single brain cells and synapses, and endeavored to understand the fluctuations in autonomous brain rhythms due to different stages of consciousness and responses to reverberations in the brainstem and thalamic reticular formations.

In 1964, he relocated from the MNI to the Université de Montréal to work with Jean-Pierre Cordeau at the Centre de Recherches en Sciences Neurologiques, funded by the Canadian Medical Research Council. Jasper’s research focus here was on experimental neurophysiology by combined neurochemical and microelectrode techniques, and he did key work in the field of neurotransmitters and cortical function. He also taught in the neurophysiology department. Although he retired in 1976, he maintained an active role in the laboratories at both the Université de Montreal and the MNI as an honorary consultant in neuroscience. Following his wife Margaret’s death in 1983, he married Mary Lou McDougall.

Over the course of his influential seventy year career in brain research, Jasper was honoured with numerous awards, distinctions, and honorary degrees. These include the Albert Einstein World Science Award from the World Cultural Council, the William G. Lennox Award of the American Epilepsy Society, the Ralph Gerard Prize from the Society for Neuroscience, the McLaughlin Medal from the Royal Society of Canada, the Carl Spencer Lashley Award from the American Philosophical Society, and the FNG Starr Award from the Canadian Medical Association. He was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972, a Grand Officer of the Ordre National du Québec, and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1995. He received numerous honorary degrees from universities in Canada and overseas, including McGill, Queen’s, and the Université de Bordeaux.

Dr. Jasper was an active member of many national and international medical and research organizations, and was one of the founding members of IBRO (the International Brain Research Organization); in 1960 he moved to Paris for one year to become the organization’s first Executive Secretary. He was the first president of the American EEG Society, as well as the International Federation of Societies for EEG and Clinical Neurophysiology. He also engaged in extensive publishing and editorial activities as the founder and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. He chaired many committees and traveled worldwide to participate in symposia and conferences. A prolific writer, Jasper published well over 300 works.

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