Intended for healthcare professionals


Ewart Geoffrey Walsh

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 07 August 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:346

An expert on the physiology of the human nervous system

Geoffrey Walsh undertook ingenious physiological measurements on human subjects to study the sensory nervous system or understand motor control problems in children with cerebral palsy and adults with multiple sclerosis. Often he used apparatus that he designed and constructed himself.

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After clinical appointments Dr Walsh obtained his MRCP in 1950 and was appointed lecturer in physiology at Edinburgh University, where he remained for the rest of his career, subsequently becoming senior lecturer and reader. He was an internationally acclaimed expert on the physiology of the human nervous system, lecturing at universities worldwide, and he published more than 150 scientific papers on human neurophysiology, biomechanics, and clinical physiology. His first book, Physiology of the Nervous System, was a classic.

A major innovation was his measurement of muscle tone by the assessment of resonating frequency and his demonstration that muscles behaved thixotropically, sometimes like a solid and sometimes, when shaken or stirred, like a liquid—a bit like tomato ketchup. This was a unique system, which remains the only objective measurement of muscle tone. His book Muscles, Masses and Motion: The Physiology of Normality, Hypotonicity, Spasticity and Rigidity was published in 1992. This represented a compendium of current knowledge about posture control in normal people, including medical students and Buddhist monks, and in those with special skills such as sportsmen and musicians, and in children with cerebral palsy. He was latterly involved in biomechanical research investigating “shaken baby syndrome.”

Geoffrey lived for neurophysiology experiments and Edinburgh medical students and staff remember being recruited as volunteers for yet another study on complex finger movements or tests of vestibular function.

He leaves three daughters and their families.

Ewart Geoffrey Walsh, former reader in physiology Edinburgh University (b Cheltenham 1922; q Oxford 1947; MD (Harvard), FRCP, FRCP Ed, FRS Ed), d 26 March 2003.

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[R A Minns,M Lakie]