Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen

Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen

Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen brought to the presidency of APS traditions different from those of her recent predecessors. Of the eleven presidents beginning with Pappenheimer (1964-65), seven of them received a major part of their education or training in laboratories at Harvard University. Schmidt-Nielsen's background, by contrast, was in a relatively small but unusually distinguished laboratory in Copenhagen founded by her parents, August and Marie Krogh (11).

"I am the youngest of four children. My father and mother were both physiologists, and we children were daily exposed to conversations dealing with topics in physiology. Also, the many visitors and guests who came to the house were mostly scientists. During the first five years of schooling I was educated at home by a private teacher, together with my two-years older sister. This gave us the opportunity to have lunch daily with our parents as they came over to the house from the laboratory. . . . At the age of eleven I entered the Rysensteen Gymnasium from which I graduated in 1937 specializing in mathematics and natural sciences. I must acknowledge the superb teachers I had in the Danish gymnasium."

Although she had originally intended to study medicine, Schmidt-Nielsen decided rather to enter the School of Dentistry, where she quickly discovered that she was fascinated by the subject of physiology. She began to tutor fellow students in the subject and began also a research project on the exchange of calcium and phosphorus in human teeth (1). She was married to Knut Schmidt-Nielsen in 1939. (This marriage ended in divorce in 1965; in 1968 she married Roger G. Chagnon.) The first of her three children was born shortly after she received her D.D.S. degree in 1941. Her father then advised her to give up plans for continuing studies in medicine in favor of experimental work. She therefore continued research in the School of Dentistry, audited lectures in physiology at the university, and briefly practiced dentistry while she taught prosthetics and, later, dental surgery. In 1946 she became the first person to qualify in Denmark for the newly established degree doctor of odontology. She received the Dr. Phil. degree in 1955.

"In 1946 Laurence Irving and Per F. Scholander invited my husband and me to come to Swarthmore College as research associates. We sailed for the United States on 5 November 1946, in a rickety Liberty ship with our two children. We arrived in Swarthmore on 2 December. There I first worked with gas analysis using Scholander's new micromethods. Then, in the spring of 1947 Irving suggested that we study water metabolism of kangaroo rats in southern Arizona. We worked in the desert with kangaroo rats, pocket mice, and the desert rat Neotoma during two summers (1947 and 1948). The experiments were continued at Swarthmore, and later at Stanford University, where I decided to learn about renal function. In my spare time I studied Homer Smith's book on the kidney (Physiology of the Kidney, Oxford, 1937). The next important event in my education came when, on Smith's invitation, I spent my first summer at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory working with Roy Forster on urea secretion by frog tubules. My background with my father's laboratory had already prepared me for becoming a comparative physiologist, but I did not know how much the comparative approach dominated my thinking until I started working in comparative renal physiology at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Further, the many discussions with other scientists there, including Homer Smith and E. K. Marshall, immensely stimulated my interest."

Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen's Other Documents

Table of Contents for Bodil Schmidt-Nielsen's Interview

Interviewed by William H. Dantzler

Video - My Life as a Scientist

Introduced by Mary Sue Koeppel