The Physiological Legacy of the Fenn, Rahn and Otis School

Part of the Perspectives in Physiology book series (PHYSIOL)


Extraordinary advances in respiratory physiology occurred between 1941 and 1956 in the Department of Physiology, University of Rochester. These were principally the result of a collaboration between Wallace Fenn, Hermann Rahn and Arthur Otis. Remarkably all three scientists had worked in very dissimilar areas of physiology before and, by their own admission, were largely ignorant of respiratory physiology. However because of the exigencies of war they were brought together to study the physiology of pressure breathing. The result was that they laid much of the foundations of pulmonary gas exchange and pulmonary mechanics and some of their work is still cited today. In pulmonary gas exchange they exploited the new oxygen-carbon dioxide diagram, clarified the effects of changes of altitude, hyperventilation and pressure breathing, and pioneered the analysis of ventilation-perfusion relationships. In respiratory mechanics, they carried out ground-breaking work on the pressure-volume behavior of the lung and chest wall, and went on to analyze aspects of gas flow and work of breathing. This explosion of ideas from what initially appeared to be a poorly prepared group has lessons for us today.


Chest Wall Functional Residual Capacity Respiratory Physiology Pulmonary Mechanic Otis Group 
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© American Physiological Society 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Professor of Medicine and Physiology School of MedicineUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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