November 23, 1903–October 3, 1995
BY GEORGE ADELMAN AND BARRY SMITH
FRANCIS O. SCHMITT was one of the founders of two interdisciplinary life science fields that were to become of ever-greater importance in the latter part of the twentieth century. One of these is biophysics, which he helped to define in the 1930s by his revolutionary physical studies of the fine structure and molecular properties of proteins (such as collagen and neurofilaments), of cells (such as neurons and glia), and of tissues (such as connective tissue and muscle). The other is neuroscience, which he launched in the 1960s with his Neuroscience Research Program. By dint of his broad and forward-looking vision, his unflagging vigor, and his boundless enthusiasm, Schmitt managed to bring together colleagues from diverse disciplines and stimulate their highly productive interactions in the study of the nervous system. Thus he changed the lives and careers of many scientists, some of them young and others not so young.
Schmitt was born in St. Louis in 1903, the son of second-generation German immigrants and the grandson of a Lutheran pastor. Raised by hard-working, enlightened parents, Frank took an early interest in science, and at age twelve, he signed up for the scientific curriculum at the recently founded, progressive Grover Cleveland High School.