For experimental physiologists around the turn of the 20th century, muscle was one of the most confounding and controversial objects of biological research. As one of the two animal tissues most closely associated with action and movement (nerve being the other), muscle was, in the minds of many of its investigators, a window into the role of physicochemical forces in the propagation of the living state. Nineteenth-century investigators concerned with the movement of the “muscle machine,” as it was often called, primarily approached the question of the relationship between muscular force (contraction) and muscular fuel (energy) as a physical problem. But by the first few decades of the 20th century, researchers interested in biological energy approached this relationship explicitly as a chemical problem. This talk traces the processes through which experimental physiologists identified muscle as a key tissue of interest for investigations into the generation, storage, and use of biological energy. Through an examination of the shifting and much-debated role of lactic acid in muscle contraction, this talk illuminates the various epistemologies of muscular force and fuel in turn-of-the-century physiology.
Gina Surita, PhD candidate in history of science at Princeton University
Fee and open to the public. For access to the virtual event, please visit the event webpage.