August 24, 1913 - October 11, 1980
By John G. Nicholls
From the beginning of Stephen Kuffler's career in neurobiology until his last experiments, each paper he produced was distinctive for its clarity, elegance, and originality. Time after time he provided fresh insights into mechanisms by which nerve cells generate electrical impulses, transfer information at synapses, and integrate signals. A hallmark of his work was that after formulating a key question, Stephen Kuffler would seek and find just the right animal species and the appropriate techniques for obtaining a decisive answer. Although he tackled a wide range of fundamental problems, a continuous thread ran through his work: the desire to understand how neurons that make up the brain carry out their functions. To this end he made electrical recordings, often requiring hours of skilled dissection, to study the functional properties of individual nerve cells and muscle fibers in invertebrates, frogs, and mammals.
A characteristic feature of his experiments was the use of whatever electrical, biochemical, or morphological techniques were necessary for solving the problem. This approach produced a major change in the study of the nervous system. By virtue of his superb research, his personality, and the generations of students that he inspired and influenced, he