Alfred N. Richards

University of Pennsylvania

March 22, 1876 - March 24, 1966

Membership Type:
Member (elected 1927)

Alfred Richards served as President of the National Academy of Sciences from 1947 to 1950. A pharmacologist, he made groundbreaking discoveries concerning the physiology of the kidney and the chemistry of digestion.  He proved Karl Lugvig’s filtration-reabsorption theory of urine formation by measuring the effects of histamine on the circulation of blood through a microexperimental method called micropuncture. 

After graduating from Yale University in 1897, Richards became the first graduate student at Columbia to earn his PhD in physiological chemistry. He was also the first person to receive a scholarship from the Rockefeller Institute. He began teaching pharmacology at Columbia in 1907 and in 1908 he helped found the Department of Pharmacology at Northwestern Medical School. From 1910 to 1946 he was the Chair of the Pharmacology Department at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. In addition, he served as the Vice President in Charge of Medical Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania.  In 1941 he was the Chairman of the Committee on Medical Research of the Office of Scientific Research and Development where he greatly increased the availability of penicillin to medical camps during World War II.

Richard’s presidency at the National Academy of Sciences was marked by reorganization and settling after World War II. With threats of the Cold War looming, he oversaw the establishment of the National Science Foundation, which was created to mobilize science planning in the event of an emergency. The Academy and the Research Council also created committees for Navy research and undersea warfare; devoting money to oceanographic research through funding for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He also supervised post-war research commissions such as the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which studied the physiological and ecological effects of the atomic bomb. 

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