Professor Augustus Desiré Waller

12 July 1856 - 11 March 1922

Augustus Desiré Waller was the son of Augustus Volney Waller (1816 - 70), also a physiologist remembered for studies of nerve degeneration.  He was born in Paris and lived in Paris and Switzerland until his father’s death in 1870, when the family moved to Aberdeen.  He studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen from 1874, graduating MB in 1878 and MD in 1881. In 1883 he was appointed lecturer in physiology at the School of Medicine for Women in London and a year later lecturer at St. Mary’s Hospital, London.  During his time there he wrote a student text An Introduction to Human Physiology (1891). In 1903 he was appointed professor of physiology at the newly opened Physiological Laboratory of the University of London.  He became consulting physician at the National Hospital for Diseases of the Heart, where he used Einthoven's galvanometer extensively for studying the electrical activity of the heart. In 1921, he published a series of over 2000 cases.

In 1887, using a capillary mercury galvanometer, he made the first recording of a human electrocardiogram (ECG).  He also coined the term electrocardiogram.  At the time Waller did not think this would have any practical use, but the development of the string galvanometer by his friend Willem Einthoven, to whom he had demonstrated his technique, gave it the immense clinical value it still has today. Although Einthoven was awarded the 1924 Nobel Prize, he always gave Waller credit for his discovery. Waller had died in 1922 and so was not eligible for a Nobel Prize.

He was appointed Fullerian Professor of Physiology in 1896 and awarded honorary degrees from Edinburgh (1905), Western Australia (1914) and Tomsk (1914).

FRS (1892)

Image: Wellcome Collection; Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Biography prepared from the nomination made by Dr J Scott to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.