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John Zachary Young

</tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></tr></table> John Zachary YoungFRS[1] (18 March 1907 – 4 July 1997), generally known as "JZ" or "JZY", was an Englishzoologist and neurophysiologist, described as "one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century."[2]


Young went to school at Marlborough College, an independent school in Wiltshire, England. In 1928, he received a first class honours degree in zoology from Magdalen College, Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1945 and served as Professor of Anatomy at University College London from then until 1974. The following year, he became a Professor Emeritus and proposed a degree programme in the Human Sciences.

Among his honors are a Linnean Medal for zoology from the Linnean Society of London, awarded in 1973, and honorary citizenship of the city of Naples, Italy, granted in 1991. He was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the University of Bath in 1974.[3]

Young revered[4] the brother of his great-great- grandfather, Richard, the English scientist and Egyptologist Thomas Young, M.D., F.R.S. (1773–1829).[1]

Research work

Most of his scientific research was on the nervous system. He discovered the squid giant axon and the corresponding squid giant synapse. His work in the 1930s on signal transmission in, and the fibre structure of, nerves inspired the work of Sir Andrew Huxley and Sir Alan Hodgkin for which they received a Nobel prize.

During World War II, responding to the large number of nerve injuries sustained by soldiers in combat and by his pioneering work in comparative anatomy and the regrowth of damaged nerves in squids and octopuses, Young set up a unit at the University of Oxford to study nerve regeneration in mammals. His wartime team, investigating the biochemical conditions which control nerve fibre growth, also sought ways to accelerate the repair of peripheral nerves severed by injury. Working with Peter Medawar, Young found a way to rejoin small peripheral nerves using a "glue" of plasma. This method was eventually modified and used in surgery.

After the war, Young's research interests turned to investigating the central nervous system and the functions of the brain.

In 1950, Young was invited by the BBC to deliver the Reith Lectures. For his series of eight radio broadcasts, titled Doubt and Certainty in Science, he introduced the BBC audience to the themes of his research, exploring the function of the brain and the then-current scientific methods used to increase understanding of it.

However, he is probably best remembered for his two textbooks, The Life of Vertebrates and The Life of Mammals.

He was President of the Marine Biological Association from 1976 to 1986. His personal research library is held in the National Marine Biological Library at the MBA.

A memorial service was held for him in the Chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, on 9 November 1997.


Young traveled to Naples for many years, for his summer experimenting season, at the Stazione Zoologica di Napoli which he had first known as a student occupying the Oxford research 'Table'. In Naples, he was known as "Professore" at his favorite restaurants. Young was awarded an honorary citizenship by the City of Naples for his services to science, in particular for the studies he conducted at the Stazione. Young was also awarded the Stazione's Gold Medal by the President of the Stazione Zoologica at a concert given in his honour in October 1991. In 1991 he was invited by the Italian Biological Society to make an anniversary lecture, when he was the oldest living member of the society; for this lecture, Young picked the same subject he had talked about 63 years earlier, in 1928.

Personal life

Young was born in Mangotsfield near Bristol. He lived in Oxford as an undergraduate then as a graduate then he moved to London when he became Professor of Anatomy at University College London (the chair of the department is now named the J. Z. Young Chair). He lived first in Chelsea then moved to Camden Town in 1962. After his retirement in 1974 he gradually moved from London to an old brick kiln house in Brill in Buckinghamshire. Young continued to work (for most of his retirement) at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples every summer as well as at a laboratory in the Psychology Department of Oxford University. He carried on doing research and publishing scientific papers until (and beyond) his death in July 1997. Young married twice, Phyllis Heaney (a painter) with whom he had two children, Simon Zachary and Cordelia. In 1987 following the death of Phyllis he married Raymonde Parsons (also an artist) with whom he had one child: Kate Frances.


  • The Life of Vertebrates. 1st ed 767pp 1950 (corrected 1952 repr); 2nd ed 820pp 1962; 3rd ed 645pp 1981
  • Doubt and Certainty in Science, 1950 BBC Reith Lectures.
  • Doubt and Certainty in Science, 1951
  • The Life of Mammals. 1st ed 820pp 1957; 2nd ed 528pp 1975
  • A Model of the Brain, 1964
  • The Memory System of the Brain, 1966
  • An Introduction to the Study of Man, 1971
  • The Anatomy of the Nervous System of Octopus vulgaris, 1971
  • Programs of the Brain, 1978 (1975–77 Gifford Lectures, online)
  • Philosophy and the Brain, 1987
  • Many scientific papers, mostly on the nervous system.


  1. ^ a b Boycott, B. B. (1998). "John Zachary Young. 18 March 1907-4 July 1997". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 44: 487–509. PMID 11623988. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1998.0031.  edit
  2. ^ The Guardian; 14 July 1997, p13
  3. ^ Honorary Graduates 1966 to 1988 | University of Bath. Retrieved on 26 June 2014.
  4. ^ Young, John Zachary (1964). A Model of the Brain. William Withering Lectures. Clarendon Press. p. 31. 


External links

John Zachary Young,
M.A. (Oxon), D.Sc., LL.D., FRS </span></th></tr>
File:John Zachary Young 1978c.jpg
John Zachary Young in 1978
Born</th> (1907-03-18)18 March 1907
Bristol, England
Died</th> 4 July 1997(1997-07-04) (Age 90)
Oxford, England
Nationality</th> British
Fields</th> Zoology, Anatomy, Physiology
Institutions</th> University College London,
Alma mater</th> Magdalen College, University of Oxford
Doctoral advisor</th> Template:If empty
Known for</th> Research on the giant axon of the squid
Influenced</th> Semir Zeki
Notable awards</th> Royal Medal (1967)
Linnean Medal (1973)
Academic offices
Preceded by
Harold Munro Fox
Fullerian Professor of Physiology
Succeeded by
Richard John Harrison

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