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Georg von Békésy

Georg von BékésyBorn: 3-Jun-1899
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Died: 13-Jun-1972
Location of death: Honolulu, HI
Cause of death: Natural Causes

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Scientist

Nationality: Hungary
Executive summary: Mechanism of cochlear stimulation

Military service: Hungarian Army (1918-20)

Hungarian biophysicist Georg von Békésy grew up in various foreign cities, including Munich, Constantinople (now Istanbul), and Zurich, as his father worked for the Hungarian Diplomatic Service. After obtaining his PhD in physics, he spent two decades working for the Hungarian Post Office, which, in addition to delivering the mail, oversaw the nation's telephone service. He was assigned research toward improving the quality of long-distance telephone calls, but instead focused his attention on the physics of sound. For his demonstration of the physical means by which sound is received and analyzed in the cochlea (the spiraling cavity of the ear), he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1961. He was the first physicist to win Nobel honors in this category. His work led to advances in ear surgery and better hearing aids.

Békésy had a sickly childhood, and even as an adult he said, "I never was too healthy". He was always skeptical of modern medicine, but acknowledged the contradiction inherent in such a stance, since he himself was a scientist involved in medical research. From his teen years until his death, whenever he was not in his classes or laboratory, he could always be found at the library. During his years with the Post Office, he obtained cadaver skulls from a friend at a local university, and he once glued tiny mirrors onto an eardrum to observe how it responded to various sounds. He frequently carried a human skull in his traveling bags, which, he said, once nearly caused his arrest when a policeman searched his possessions.

Father: Alexander von Békésy (diplomatic bureaucrat)
Mother: Paula Mazaly von Békésy

    University: BS Chemistry, University of Berne (1920)
    University: PhD Physics, University of Budapest (1923)
    Teacher: Physics, University of Budapest (1932-34, 1939)
    Professor: Experimental Physics, University of Budapest (1939-46)
    Scholar: Karolinska Institute, Stockholm (1946-47)
    Scholar: Harvard University (1947-66)
    Professor: Sensory Sciences, University of Hawaii (1966-72)

    Nobel Prize for Medicine 1961
    Siemens 1926-27
    Hungarian Ancestry

Author of books:
Experiments in Hearing (1960)
Sensory Inhibition (1967)

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