High Life pp 228-253 | Cite as

World War II

  • John B. West


World War II played an important part in the history of high-altitude physiology and medicine for at least two reasons. First, respiratory and environmental physiology typically have a surge of activity during times of war and this was certainly true during World War II. The urgent demands of wartime brought unlikely groups together with a strong sense of purpose, one of the best examples being the team that formed under Wallace Fenn in Rochester, New York, in the early 1940s. Although the work of this group will be discussed below, it is relevant here to cite Otis and Rahn (1980) to emphasize how the war melded people with different interests.

It may seem incongruous that a group of individuals with such diverse and unrelated interests (Leigh Chadwick’ was studying Drosophila flight, Hermann Rahn was developing a bioassay method in frogs for testing intermedin hormone of the pituitary, and Arthur Otis was studying the activation and inhibition of the enzyme tyrosinase in grasshopper eggs) could put aside these activities to participate and collaborate effectively in a project on pressure breathing. None of us had any previous training in human physiology (we were not certain which lung volume was, in the terminology of the day, complemental air and which was supplemental air). (Otis and Rahn, 1980)

Yet in a few years this group laid the foundations of modern respiratory mechanics and pulmonary gas exchange!.


Dioxide Rubber Respiration Syringe Explosive 


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  1. Houston, C. S., A. Cymerman, and J. R. Sutton. Operation Everest II: Biomedical Studies During a Simulated Ascent of Mt. Everest. Natick, MA: U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, 1991. The first part of this book described Operation Everest I.Google Scholar
  2. Fulton, J. F. Aviation Medicine in its Preventive Aspects. London: Oxford University Press, 1948.Google Scholar
  3. United States Air Force. German Aviation Medicine, World War II. Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, 1950.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© American Physiological Society 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • John B. West
    • 1
  1. 1.La JollaUSA

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