Laurence Irving 1895-1979

Laurence Irving
Portrait of Laurence Irving, founder of IAB. Credit: Courtesy of IAB.

Laurence Irving was a pioneer in the field of comparative physiology. The very existence of the field and recognition of its contribution to our understanding of the natural world, so obvious today, are due in large measure to Irving's creative and visionary approach to science.

Irving was born in Boston and received his university education at Bowdoin College (B.A.), Harvard University (M.A.) and Stanford University (Ph.D.). He began his academic career as an instructor at Stanford (1925-1927) and became associate professor (1927-1931) and professor of experimental biology (1931-1937) at the University of Toronto and professor and chairman of the Department of Biology at Swarthmore College (1937-1949).

Irving also had a distinguished career in public service. He served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army in World War I (1917-1919) and a lieutenant colonel in Army Air Corps (1943-1946). During the post-war years he played an important role in the development of U.S. initiative in arctic and Antarctic biological research. He was the leader of the first scientific group to exploit the investigative opportunitites at the site later know as the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Barrow, Alaska (1947-1949). This effort led to the establishment of the laboratory, and Irving served as its first director. He then became chief of the physiology section at the newly established Arctic Health Research Center in Anchorage, Alaska (1949-1962). Irving was instrumental in the establishment of the Alaska Science Conferences and served as the president of the first conference. In 1962 he moved to the University of Alaska Fairbanks where he organized and served as the founding director of the Institute of Arctic Biology until his retirement in 1966. Irving was active in research, writing, and professional affairs until his death in 1979.

Irving studied and published on many topics in comparative physiology, ranging through matters as diverse as metabolism and respiration in starfish, development of trout embryos, blood supply in mammalian brains, adaptations of seals to diving, blood transport of respiratory gases in fishes, respiration of porpoises and manatees, cold adaptation in arctic birds and mammals including humans, and environmental adaptations of native arctic peoples. In the course of these studies Irving supported and encouraged many students and colleagues.

It is appropriate that Irving's career is recognized in the naming of the Laurence Irving Building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and in the continuing series of distinguished visiting speakers of the Irving-Scholander Memorial Lecture Series. Irving and Per Scholander enjoyed close association as scientific collaborators for many years - and another special relationship: Per Scholander was Irving's son-in-law.