Portrait of Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov. Artist I.E. Repin, 1889.

Portrait of Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov. Artist I.E. Repin, 1889.

Source of photo - Wikipedia.

An outstanding physiologist, scientist, a man who changed the view on how the central nervous system functions, Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov, was born on August 13, 1829. The scientist devoted his entire life to medical science. He constantly lectured, passing his knowledge to the young future specialists. Ivan Mikhailovich laid the foundation for the scientific activities of such talented scientists-physiologists as Ivan Petrovich Pavlov and others. 

Why did Ivan Sechenov choose medicine? At first, he enrolled in the Saint Petersburg Military Engineering and Technical University, but his military career was not successful. So, the young Sechenov went to Moscow, where he became an auditor at the Medical Faculty of Imperial Moscow University (now Lomonosov Moscow State University). Regular attendance of lectures prompted Ivan Sechenov to take up medicine seriously. Besides medical disciplines, he was interested in philosophy, psychology, history, literature, and even theater. Thus, one day he played the role of Skalozub in the theater performance of Griboyedov's comedy Woe from Wit.

During his studying he became close friends with general practitioner and physiologist Sergey Botkin, ophthalmologist Eduard Junge and physiologist Pavel Einbrodt. After graduating from the university in 1856, Ivan Sechenov received the doctorate and went to Germany to study physiology. During his stay there until 1859, he was engaged in scientific work on the basis of large German laboratories, preparing to defend his next thesis. In his study, Sechenov described in detail the physiological processes of a person during intoxication with alcohol. As early as the next year, the scientist successfully defended his doctoral thesis at the Medical and Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg and carried on his work on the establishment of the First Physiological Laboratory of Russia. For a long time, Sechenov's Physiological Laboratory was affiliated with the Medical and Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg. It was the laboratory that became the largest research center in Russia. Not only physiology, but also pharmacology and practical medicine were studied there. 

Ivan Mikhailovich was a great lover of various experiments. His famous research on frogs fascinated the whole city of Paris. That is where the scientist discovered the concept of “central inhibition in the brain.” And later – in 1863 – this article was first published in French, German, and Russian. While the Meditsinskiy Vestnik journal presented his article on the brain reflexes. For the first time people became aware of a complex of stimuli from the external environment that influence human behavior. Any stimulus produces a response in the body, which is called a reflex. 

Ivan Sechenov divided reflexes into simple and complex ones, each of them establishes the ability to inhibit the processes of the brain excitation, falling into the inhibition category. This discovery was called “Sechenov inhibition” and became widely used in all physiology textbooks. Thus, Ivan Mikhailovich determined that the external environment and its influence on the person form a protective reflex against any extraneous stimuli on the organism. Visually, it is manifested as a complex of motor reactions. The scientist was sure that the best way to avoid rapid fatigue was to rest actively, alternating mental and physical work. He presented his scientific evidence: the working day should not exceed 8 hours, and the amount of time spent on a healthy sleep should be about 8 hours.

Besides numerous experiments and scientific works, Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov was engaged in teaching for more than 40 years. He formed the largest school of physiologists. Sechenov's scientific studies helped his students and colleagues in solving physiological and psychological problems, such as the physiology of respiration, metabolism, gas exchange, and neuromuscular physiology. 

Ivan Sechenov conducts an experiment on a two-handed ergograph

Ivan Sechenov conducts an experiment on a two-handed ergograph

In 1901, Ivan Mikhailovich took a well-deserved retirement, but he did not give up on medicine. For example, he built a two-armed ergograph in 1903, which recorded muscle movements related to labor activities. The results of his invention showed that tired muscles recover faster during active rest – the scientist compared arm recovery by means of active and passive rest. After this experiment, the concept of “active rest” (another term for the “Sechenov phenomenon”) appeared.

He died in 1905, but till the end of his days Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov continued to lecture and work in science and medicine. After his death, the First Moscow Medical Institute was named after him. In 1958, the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR established the Sechenov Prize for outstanding experimental and theoretical research in the field of general physiology. He greatly enriched science with his physiological discoveries and his experiments in the development of the central nervous system, which is the main foundation of all forms of brain activity in the human body.

Based on open sources.

Source of photo in the text and on the homepage - Wikipedia.