Wiltz Wagner
Wagner150x200

Wiltz Wagner

Wiltz Wagner, Professor of Pharmacology at the University Of South Alabama School Of Medicine, is interviewed in this segment of the “Living History of Physiology” by Dr. Troy Stevens, Chairman of the Physiology Department also at the University of South Alabama. Wiltz and Troy have been close friends and colleagues for many years, which gives the interview a conversational flavor.  Dr. Wagner has had an interesting career of more than 50 years focused primarily on the physiology and pathophysiology of the pulmonary microcirculation. As with so many scientists, Wiltz’s career has many twists and turns, beginning with his student days at Tulane University where he had the distinction of flunking out of engineering, and physics, and English, and invited not to return. Life required a reboot. Just after his 21st birthday, he left his native New Orleans and went to Denver where he did not know a soul within a thousand miles. After several months and by sheer happenstance, he was hired by Dr. Robert Grover who was director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at the University of Colorado Medical School. There Wiltz did extensive investigations by injection barium sulfate into the pulmonary circulation of animal and human lungs that had pulmonary hypertension and studying micrographs. While looking at the complex branching patterns with colleagues, the comment was made that there is something of great importance here if we were smart enough to see it — which later turned out to be fractals.  Wiltz also worked in Dr. Giles Filley’s laboratory where they were developing a thoracic window to study the pulmonary microcirculation in vivo. It was there that that Wiltz found his passion which led to an 80-hour-week, 52-week-a-year fascination for the kind science that involved physiology, pharmacology, electronics, high-speed light sources and cameras, and the other joyful build-yourself gadgets. It was a golden time when physiologists made everything; a time preceding the current era in which all labs seem to look the same: clean lab benches, pipettes, blots, and store-bought machines and the sad notion that if you can fit some version of Koch’s postulates but you can’t buy a kit or get a knockout, then you should find another question. Wiltz considers himself lucky to have found his bliss contemplating the pulmonary microcirculation, with side trips to the jungles of French Guinea and Bolivia to study the elusive coati mundi, opening the field of athletic amenorrhea, having a fascinating time investigating neutrophil kinetics in lung capillaries, the indescribable feelings of zero g on the NASA airplane, but most of all spending a lifetime in buildings where everyone’s IQ is well above 100 and the folk are curious and friendly. In this case, the retrospectroscope shows that beginning academia as a dismal failure was perhaps the best thing that could have happened.    


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