Jacques Loeb


Jacques Loeb was a brilliant general physiologist who, as a visiting scientist, maintained an investigators room at Hopkins Seaside Laboratory during the winter of 1898 and 1900. During his first visit, Loeb conducted an experimental physiology demonstration that applied an engineering approach to scientific research and made a lasting impression on the young Ray Lyman Wilbur. The following paragraph from Wilbur’s memoirs offers his personal recollection of Jacques Loeb’s visit during the winter of 1898.

"It was during that year (Feb.11, 1898) that Dr. Jacques Loeb, professor of physiology at the University of Chicago, paid a visit to Stanford. He was planning to carry on some special work at the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory at Pacific Grove. He gave us a fine demonstration of the physiological effects of certain electrical waves. I helped prepare friction apparatus for the demonstration and also provided the so-called muscle-nerve preparation of the frog, which includes certain nerves of the hind legs. Dr. Loeb demonstrated that Hertzian waves could be deflected by mirrors. His most dramatic demonstration was with the muscle-nerve preparation. When the machine was working he put hands into the path of the waves, deflecting them toward the muscle-nerve preparation, and said, "Now, Yoomp!"…Yoomp! Yoompl"...And the hind legs "yoomped." He repeated it again. I can still hear him say, "Now, Yoomp!" and see the frog legs jump."(43)

Beyond the experimental physiology demonstration using frogs, Loeb had come to Pacific Grove to obtain the eggs of sea urchins spawning in winter. At the time, Loeb was on a quest to check the experimental results he obtained at Woods Hole Laboratory associated with artificial parthenogenesis - the ability to activate sea urchin eggs without sperm and initiate development.(44) While at Hopkins, Loeb completed experiments that confirmed his results which led to a publication in Science magazine later that year titled “On the Artificial Parthenogenesis of Sea Urchins.” (45)

Jacque Loeb’s experimental results, demonstrating the ability to initiate the embryonic development of sea urchins without sperm, sent shock waves through the biological science community and the American public at large. Being one of the earliest examples of bioengineering, Loeb’s parthenogenesis experiment presented the opportunity to control and manipulate life’s processes, rather than the simple attempt to analyze and understand nature, as had been the practice of the vast majority of biologists in America up to that point in time. Jacque Loeb’s pioneering results, showing a mechanistic conception of life, not only received extended publicity in the press, but would also have significant implications on how scientific research would proceed, not just at Stanford, but the nation itself.

With Loeb finding his visits to the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory in Pacific Grove scientifically rewarding, a rudimentary lab was established for his use along the shores of New Monterey. Positioned just east of the Chinese fishing village, where is today the Hovden Way members entrance to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sat a plain, one-story wooden building where Loeb would spend significant amount of time from 1903 to 1910, while professor at the University of California. (46) This small lab being a gift to the Department of Physiology of the University of California by Dr. Morris Herzstein, specifically for Loeb to conduct his research. (47)


(45) Loeb, Jacques. (1900). On artificial parthenogenesis in sea urchins. Science, New Series. 11 (277): 612–614.

(47) Ritter, William E. (1915). The Biological Laboratories Of The Pacific Coast The Popular Science Monthly, Popular Science Publishing Company. 86:223-232.