Fridtjof Nansen's visit to the Stazione Zoologica in Naples

Marina BENTIVOGLIO1, Fabio DE SIO2 and Christiane GROEBEN2
1Department of Morphological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Verona, Verona, Italy.  marina.bentivoglio AT
2History of Science Unit and Historical Archives, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Naples, Italy

The multifaceted personality and variegated interests and talents of the Norwegian Fritjof Nansen (1861-1930), zoologist and neurobiologist, pioneer of the neuron doctrine, oceanographer, polar explorer, diplomat and Nobel Laureate for Peace in 1922, have already received attention and praise. Among the many episodes of Nansen’s life, however, it may be less known that a visit to the “Stazione Zoologica” in Naples played a key role in his contributions to neuroscience. In April 1886, Nansen, who had embarked on a continental study tour, spent some days in the laboratory of Camillo Golgi at the University of Pavia to learn the “reazione nera”, Golgi’s silver impregnation. Nansen then applied to a “work-table” at the “Stazione Zoologica” in Naples, that he could finally obtain. He spent two months in Naples, which seemed to have been a very stimulating and productive period. Nansen met there Stephan von Apáthy, whose method to stain fibrils seemed to indicate that fibrils formed a continuous network in the nervous system. In June 1886, Nansen left Naples for a sentimental journey. Back to Bergen, he further developed his independent thinking, denying any direct anastomosis between nerve cells. Correspondence with Anton Dohrn, the founder of the “Stazione Zoologica”, document Nansen’s “respectful and friendly memories” and exchange of (heavy) packages. In April 1888 Nansen defended in Bergen his thesis on “Histological Elements of the Central Nervous System”, richly illustrated by drawings of Golgi-impregnated material (mainly from Myxine glutinosa). Two days after his dissertation Nansen was on his way to Greenland.

Session VIII.  The Stazione Zoologica of Naples and the Neurosciences
Saturday, 24 June 2006, 10.00 - 10.30 am

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006