Detlev Bronk

University of Pennsylvania

August 13, 1897 - November 17, 1975

Membership Type:
Member/Public Welfare Medalist (elected 1939)/(awarded 1964)

Detlev Bronk was President of the National Academy of Sciences from 1950 to 1962. He is credited with the establishment of biophysics as a discipline and the development of methods for measuring nervous tissue metabolism and electric activity, especially the mechanism of synaptic transmission. In addition to his scientific research, he was also the leader of several institutions.

Bronk graduated from Swarthmore in 1920 and earned his PhD at the University of Michigan in 1926. In 1928 he was a Professor of Physiology and Physics at Swarthmore and in 1929 he began his distinguished career at the University of Pennsylvania where he served as the Johnson Professor of Biophysics, the Director of the Eldridge Reeves Johnson Foundation for Medical Physics, and the Director of the Institute of Neurology. During his time at the University of Pennsylvania he was also a Professor of Physiology at Cornell University Medical College. He served as President of Johns Hopkins University and of the Rockefeller Institute and was an active member of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Brookhaven National Laboratories, and the Atomic Energy Commission. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

As a member and President of the National Academy of Sciences Bronk was a very active leader, serving on many wartime committees during World War II. In 1945 he was elected Foreign Secretary of the Academy and Chairman of the National Research Council Division of Foreign Relations. In 1946 he was appointed chairman of the National Research Council. During his presidency he fostered a close relationship between the Academy and the Research Council. At the end of his presidency, the council of the Academy voted that the President of the National Academy of Sciences would also serve as the Chairman of the National Research Council. He oversaw many defense committees during the Cold War, several of them examining atomic energy.

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