Katz Papers

Scope and Content

Papers of Sir Bernard Katz, 1927-2003, including papers relating to summer schools and conferences; departmental administrative papers of the Biophysics Department, University College London; papers relating to the 'Journal of Physiology'; papers relating to the Royal Society; personal and scientific correspondence; off prints; lecture notes; working papers including for unpublished work; papers relating to overseas visits and photographs, diagrams and glass plates of scientific subjects.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bernard Katz was born in Leipzig, Germany, on 26 March 1911. His father, Max, was a Russian fur merchant who left Russia in 1904 and met his Polish wife Eugenie Rabinowitz in Germany. Because of this, Katz was a citizen of Tsarist Russia until the age of six, before becoming stateless due to the Russian Revolution, until he became a naturalized British citizen at the age of 30.

Katz sat the entrance examination for the Schiller Real-Gymnasium in Leipzig and obtained the highest mark, but in an anti-Semitic act by the school he was refused entry because he was a Russian Jew. Instead he attended the Konig Albert Gymnasium. Here he followed a classical linguistic course rather than a mathematics and science based curriculum as it gave him more free time to play chess in Leipzig's cafés. Katz enjoyed playing chess and had to give it up to concentrate on his subsequent academic career, but managed to return to it in later life.

Katz went on to study medicine at the University of Leipzig in 1929 (MD 1934). The course included anatomy, histology, physics and, under M. Gildemeister, physiology.

Katz's first two scientific papers on frog muscle membrane permeability were published in Pflugers Archie and used as the basis of his MD thesis.

In February 1935 aged 23, Katz emigrated from Germany as a result of the growing antisemitism under Hitler. Katz had considered emigrating to Palestine for a position at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but in 1934 he read an article by A V Hill in the journal Nature denouncing the hostile policies of Nazi Germany towards scientists. He decided that he would try to emigrate to London to work with Hill, who later became well-known for trying to assist Jewish refugees. Friends arranged for him to meet with Dr Chaim Weizmann (later the first President of Israel) who promised to help him find financial support. Weizmann lobbied Hill with support from M Gildemeister, to secure a position for Katz at University College London, while other friends tried to secure a visa. In February 1935, Katz travelled by train to Holland and then by ferry to Britain, "carrying a temporary visa, a League of Nations stateless-person's pass, a letter of recommendation from Martin Gildemeister and £4 in his pocket." (Colquhoun, Physiology News, 2003) Katz began his PhD research at UCL under Hill's tutelage. Hill was a teacher whom Katz greatly respected and admired, describing his first years in Hill's laboratory as the most inspiring period of his life, and later writing the biographical memoir of Hill for the Royal Society.

Katz obtained his PhD in 1938mand moved to Australia the following year to work with J.C. Eccles and S.W. Kuffler at the Kanematsu Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital as a Carnegie Research Fellow, investigating neuromuscular synapse transmission and inhibition in crustaceans. Katz's work with Eccles and Kuffler during this period "still constitutes the basis for our understanding of how one cell transmits information to the next ... and the mechanisms of inhibition." (Nicholls & Hill, J. Neurocytology, 2003).

Whilst in Australia Katz became a naturalised British citizen in 1941, allowing him to serve for a period in the Royal Australian Air Force, first as a radar officer on Goodenough Island, New Guinea, during the Pacific War against Japan, and then in the radiophysics laboratory at Sydney University.

In 1946 Hill invited Katz to return to Britain and University College London as Royal Society Henry Head Research Fellow and Assistant Director of Research in Biophysics. In 1950 Katz became Reader in Physiology, then Professor and Head of Biophysics following Hill's retirement in 1952. During this time at UCL, Katz worked with A.L. Hodgkin on the role of sodium ions in generating action potentials, introducing the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation and also studying ionic currents and the permeability of squid axons. Working with P. Fatt, he revealed the mechanism by which chemical transmitters released from nerve endings produce electrical currents in muscle and began looking at miniature endplate potentials, work which continued with J. Castillo and R. Miledi. Katz later said that they "provided many years of serious occupation and entertainment for me and my colleagues" (Katz, Creativity Research Journal, 1994). With J. Castillo he also worked on theories of quantal release and with R. Miledi on analysing the 'noise' produced by acetylcholine applied to the receptors. These experiments set the stage for E. Neher and B. Sakmann's subsequent development of the patch clamp technique, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991.

Following his retirement in 1978, he became emeritus Professor and honorary research fellow. Katz continued to play an active role in refereeing papers, providing advice, and giving lectures until the late 1990s, when his beloved wife Rita became very ill and died, and as his own health deteriorated

Katz's work laid down fundamental principles in both physiology and pharmacology, and he is synonymous with both the discovery of the quantal nature of neurotransmitter release and the role of calcium in the release process. Along with the papers arising from his research, he also wrote the classic textbook "Nerve, Muscle and Synapse", which continues to be recommended reading on physiology courses. Katz's scientific achievements were recognised by numerous honours and awards. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society (1952), gave the Croonian Lecture (1961), was awarded the Copley Medal (1967), and acted as Biological Secretary and Vice-President (1968-1976). In 1969 Katz was knighted. In 1970 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine with Ulf von Euler and Julius Axelrod 'for discoveries concerning the humoral transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation'. Amongst the many honorary degrees Katz received was one awarded by his alma mater, the University of Leipzig, and in 2000 a bronze tablet in his honour was unveiled in the University grounds.

Katz married Marguerite Penly (known as Rita) in Australia in 1945 shortly before returning to Britain. Together they had two sons, David, born in 1947 and Jonathan, born in 1950. Katz died peacefully in hospital on 20 April 2003

For further information about Katz see his autobiography, given by Katz as the Bayliss-Starling Lecture in 1985 and published the following year in the Journal of Physiology. It was later reprinted in The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography in 1996 and a German translation titled 'Eine autobiographische Skizze' was also published. There is also a memoir by B. Sakmann, 'Sir Bernard Katz', Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society, vol 53 (2007), 187-202.


The papers are arranged in 9 sections, A-J

Section A, Biographical, includes curricula vitae and lists of publications, the contents of Katz's 'personal biographical' and 'biographical notes' files, articles and press cuttings about Katz, as well as drafts and correspondence relating to his autobiographical writing. Katz's career, honours and awards are documented, 1943-2002 and include his time in the RAAF during the Second World War, his

appointment and career at UCL, the awards of the Royal Society's Copley Medal and the Nobel Prize, and his 90th birthday celebrations. There are also photographs of Katz, Lady Katz, and scientific colleagues.

Section B, University College London, comprises a large amount of correspondence relating to the Department of Biophysics, 1947-1980, especially research funding from the Medical ResearchCouncil and departmental planning for a succession of University Grants Council quinquennia. There are also teaching records for a biophysics course and contributions to other science and medicalcourses and general correspondence with the UCL Provosts.

Section C, Research, is a substantial record in the form of notes on experiments, results, graphs, prints and drafts of papers. It calculations, research proposals, correspondence, electron micrograph

is presented chronologically and is based on Katz's arrangement: pre-1950 work; work with Pau! Fatt,1948-1953; work with Jose del Castillo, 1953-1956; work with Stephen Thesleff, 1956-c.1961; Stephen Thesleff, 1956-c.1961; work with Ricardo Miledi, 1960, 1962; and work on muscle spindle of the frog, 1959-1960. The earliest records date from 1939 and relate to work on frog nerves in collaboration with A.L. Hodgkin. There isalso the contents of a box folder titled by Katz 'Unfinished work (since 1957)', 1957-1960, and a little later material into Katz's retirement, latest date 1986.

Section D, Publications, covers the period 1932-2001 and includes correspondence, drafts, proofs and figures for the majority of Katz's published papers, most of which correspond to material in the

research section. The section also contains substantial material for his seminal textbook Nerve, Muscle and Synapse, published in 1966, and his two Royal Society Biographical Memoirs for A.V. Hill (1978) and S.W. Kuffler (1982), including correspondence and biographical information on both men. There is also correspondence relating to Katz's positions on the editorial boards of the European Journal of Pharmacology, the Journal of Neurophysiology and the Journal of Physiology, several

shorter articles and requests to write, and offprints of Katz's published papers, 1932-1996.

Section E, Lectures, covers lectures, speeches, and talks given by Katz 1949-1990, as well as a large number of undated lecture notes. Notable lectures include the Herter Lectures, John Hopkins University (1958), Dunham Lectures, Harvard University (1961), Croonian Lecture, Royal Society (1961), Forbes Lectures, Woods Hole (1980) and the first Carl Gustav Bernhard Lecture, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1981).

Section F, Visits and Conferences, includes correspondence, photographs and lecture notes covering mostly overseas visits, 1952-1991, to conferences, symposia, congresses and courses. Notable visits include: 23rd, 24th and 26th International Congresses of Physiological Sciences (1965, 1967 and 1974), Symposium in honour of R. Couteaux, Paris (1979) and 60th birthday symposium for W. Riechardt, Tubingen (1984).

Section G, Societies and Organisations, presents records of sixteen British and international organisations with which Katz was associated and covers the period 1956-2002. By far the largest group of papers relates to the Royal Society which Katz served as Biological Secretary, 1968-1976. There is also documentation for a number of other organisations and committees which he served in an advisory capacity: Agricultural Research Council, Balzan Prize Foundation, Max Planck Institutes in Tubingen and G6ttingen, and the Muscular Dystrophy Group.

Section H, Correspondence, is the most substantial in the archive, spanning the years 1953-2003. It is presented in six sequences of personal and scientific correspondence with colleagues broadly

following Katz's original arrangement: research students and visiting workers (in Katz's department); colleagues and organisations; 'personal'; 'general'; 'scientific and technical' and 'references and requests'. Amongst significant correspondents are R. Couteaux, J.C. Eccles, A.L. Hodgkin, R. Miledi, R. Rahamimoff, B. Sakmann and S. Thesleff.

Section J, Non-textual material, comprises an extensive series of glass plates (134 boxes of plates) and of recording film (102 tins of Ilford 35mm film), both containing dated results from Katz's research 1946-1957. There are also slides used in talks and lectures, as well as a small number of audio and audiovisual tapes including a symposium honouring the legacy of A.L. Hodgkin and an interview with Katz for German television.

There is also an index of correspondents.

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Acquisition Information

Presented by Jonathan Katz, 2003.

Other Finding Aids

A full, detailed catalogue is available on the online catalogue.