John B. West
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John B. West

John West was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1928. He had the good fortune to attend an excellent high school and developed a love of science, particularly high energy physics. He considered this for a career but as was the custom then (and still is) he moved straight from high school to one of the faculties of the University of Adelaide and, for various reasons, chose medicine. He graduated with a medical degree in 1951 after the six years' course at the age of 23. After a year of residency he moved to London, partly because academic medicine was not well developed in Adelaide at the time, but also because he wanted to see the world.

He spent about 15 years in London, mainly at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, initially with Drs. Philip Hugh-Jones and Charles Fletcher. A remarkably serendipitous event occurred in 1956 when the Medical Research Council cyclotron started to produce radioactive oxygen-15. By inhaling this and looking at its disappearance from the lung, it became clear that there was a dramatic topographical inequality of blood flow caused by gravity. The mechanism of this was worked out, and this led to other studies on the effects of gravity on the lung including regional differences of ventilation, gas exchange, and alveolar size.


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