WAVECRAFT: Two pioneers of EEG and their world


WAVECRAFT: Two pioneer of Electroencphalography and their world


90 years ago Hans Berger, a provincial German psychiatrist with little physiological experience, rudimentary equipment, and recording from the scalp, claimed the brain was

electrically pulsating around 10 times a second. It was inconceivable that 90 billion neurons would do such a thing, and he was widely ridiculed. 5 years later, Edgar Adrian, a Cambridge professor with access to state of the art electronics, confirmed the observation and the science of electroencephalography took off. A 26-year-old student of Adrian, William Grey Walter, set up the first clinical EEG labs in the UK, at the Maudsley and Maida Vale hospitals. He was to become a leading light in that field, and others.

Berger was a quiet, correct, punctilious, conservative who avoided the limelight, Walter a leftist bohemian who courted publicity for himself and his subject.  They made a string of important discoveries yet neither was fully accepted by their country’s academic establishments in their lifetimes.

Berger worked against a backdrop of the Weimar republic and the rise of the Nazis. post-war the growing international EEG community presented him as an almost saintly figure working tirelessly for scientific truth in face of an oppressive regime that took away his job and research, and eventually drove him to despair and suicide. Historical enquiry this century paints a more nuanced picture.

Walter worked against a backdrop of World War 2 and the cold War, in a private institute whose brain research was in part military funded. His 1953 book ‘The Living Brain’, the first lay neuroscience bestseller, promoted the EEG as an aid to education, marriage, and even international relations, endorsing the idea that scientists should take on a wider role in society.

This exhibition will tell the story of their lives and work through made and found objects and images, archive material and text.

1st May -1st August 2018,  Institute of Neurology Museum and Archive, University College London, Queen’s Square, London.

1st August-1st November, Library and Archive, Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole street, London.