NINDS Mourns Thomas Smith
By Shannon Garnett
Dr. Thomas Graves Smith, Jr., head of the sensory physiology section of the Laboratory of Neurphysiology, NINDS, died recently after suffering a stroke.
He received a bachelor of arts degree from Emory University in 1953 and a master's degree in animal physiology in 1956 from Oxford University's St. John's College, England, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He earned a medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1960.
After interning for a year at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, Smith joined NIH as a research associate in the NINDB (now NINDS)-NIMH spinal cord section of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology.
Later he left NIH to serve as a visiting research associate in the department of biology and research, laboratory of electronics, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He returned to NIH in 1966 as a research medical officer in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology. He became head of the section on sensory physiology in 1970, the position he held at his death.
His early research involved classic descriptions of the electrical activity underlying circuits and networks in the cat spinal cord, which, at the time, represented the cutting edge of neurophysiology research. Next, Smith invented two-electrode voltage-clamp recording techniques to elucidate the ionic mechanisms associated with pacemaker activity in snail neurons. He was the first to apply this technique to neurons cultured from the mammalian spinal cord, which are much smaller than snail cells. He showed how opioid peptides could modulate excitatory transmitter signals in mouse spinal cord neurons.
In 1979, Smith co-organized the country's first international symposium on the role of peptides in different functions of the central nervous system, and he coedited a volume summarizing the 3-day meeting.
Over the last 20 years, Smith focused on fractal analysis of central nervous system neuron and glial cell morphology in vivo and in vitro. He was the first scientist to apply such analytic techniques to resolve the "self-similar" changes in morphology that occur during cellular differentiation. At the time of his death he was completing the editing of a volume on fractals, which, with the help of his coeditor, Dr. G. David Lange, will soon be published. This book will serve as a fitting legacy of Smith's contributions to this area of research.
Among Smith's professional accomplishments are numerous articles dating back to 1957. He held memberships in many organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physiological Society, the Society for Neuroscience (Potomac chapter) and the Federation of American Scientists. He also served as a consultant reviewer for several publications including Brain Research, Journal of Microvascular Research, Nature, Physics Review A, and Science.
He is survived by his wife Jodie Horn Smith.
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