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David Henry Smyth FRS (1908 - 1979):
Physician; physiologist

David Henry Smyth was a distinguished physiologist who was one of only two graduates of the Queen’s University, Belfast medical school to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Smyth was born in Lisburn, County Antrim, and educated there, at the Nicholson Memorial School where his father was headmaster; at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and then Queen’s University, which he entered in 1926 with Hyndmann, Tennant and Packenham Scholarships. He graduated BSc in Physiology in 1929, with first class honours, and MB in 1932, placed second in his year. After a year at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, in a house post, he returned to Queen’s as a demonstrator working on the neurological control of respiration. He obtained his MSc in 1934 (by thesis) and his MD with Gold Medal in 1935. He was awarded a Musgrave Scholarship to study for a year at Göttingen, then in 1937took up a lectureship at University College, London, under the celebrated Sir Charles Lovatt Evans, Jodrell Professor of Physiology.

The Second World War caused some interruption to his career, but he managed to submit his PhD thesis in 1940. He did some research for the Ministry of Supply, including work on the alimentary function, and ended the war acting Head of Physiology of the UCL pre-clinical centre located at Fetcham Park, Leatherhead.

From December 1946 Smyth was Professor of Physiology at Sheffield, where his research resulted in his election as Fellow of the Royal Society. Only John Alexander Sinton amongst products of Queen’s medical school was ever so honoured – Thomas Andrews had been, but before he had a connection with Queen’s. His department grew quickly in size and stature: in terms of size, it required new accommodation which, on construction, was the largest building in any redbrick university in Britain. He also served for four years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Smyth retired from Sheffield in 1973 but remained very active, for example, conducting research at the MRC Psychiatric Research Unit at Middlewood Hospital; he was a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow 1973-1979; Chairman of the Research Defence Society (1997); Chairman of the British National Committee for Physiology (1974); and many other activities.

He kept up his links with Queen’s, and, while he declined Henry Barcroft’s Chair on the latter’s retirement, he was glad to accept the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, which the University conferred on him in 1976.



Born: 9 February 1908
Died: 10 September 1979
Richard Froggatt

Ulster Medical Journal, vol 56, Supplement, August 1987, pp S46-47