March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of
Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout
2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the
celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The
University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University
Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.
University of Toronto led Canada's efforts in aviation medicine. Frederick
Banting and others in the Banting Institute, such as Edward Hall, who
later became dean of medicine and president of the University of Western
Ontario, had started working on aviation medicine before the war. They
were later joined by a number of American scientists.
investigated the physiological problems caused by high speeds and high
altitudes. High speeds, particularly in aerial dives and dog fights,
produced blindness and then unconsciousness, as blood was drawn from
the eyes and the brain by the effects of accentuated gravity.
were built by Banting's group at the Eglinton Hunt Club on Avenue Road
north of Eglinton Avenue - a decompression chamber to study the effects
of high altitudes and an accelerator to test the effects of speed. The
decompression chamber, completed in 1941, was the first in North America,
though Germany had at least eighty such chambers. Banting was the first
to test it, and obtained the equivalent of a height of 25,000 feet at
a temperature of -59° F.
tended to be somewhat reckless.
tended to be somewhat reckless. Still suffering from the effects of
the mustard gas he had tested on himself, in a confused state in the
chamber he wanted to increase the decompression on that first experiment,
but the staff wisely said no. One result of their work was an improved
Wilbur Franks, a cancer researcher in Banting's laboratory, developed
an idea that resulted in the world's first anti-gravity suit. Franks
had noted in his cancer research that his test tubes often broke when
subjected to severe centrifugal force. He had solved the problem by
first inserting them in larger and stronger liquid-filled bottles.
idea, Franks thought, could be employed for pilots, who could wear water-filled
outer suits. Mice who would otherwise have died survived when spun in
water-filled condoms (presumably with their heads out of the water).
A large centrifuge - the most advanced in the world - was built with
the help of the department of electrical engineering for experimenting
with the concept. It worked, and the so-called 'anti-G suit' was first
used in 1942 by carrier-based Royal Navy aircraft in the amphibious
landing in North Africa.
planes," a contemporary report stated, "performed feats of
aerobatics deemed impossible without the pilots blacking-out."
The present suit used by astronauts is a direct descendant of Franks'
will be surprised to learn that the University of Toronto played a significant
role in chemical and biological warfare during the war. Banting was
convinced that Germany would use such weapons. In a 1937 memo to General
A.G.L. McNaughton, then head of the NRC, Banting had written that "undoubtedly
the next development in war will be the utilization of epidemic disease
as a means of destroying an enemy."
bacillus, for example, could be delivered "by means of rats harbouring
infected fleas." Shells, he went on, could contain "bacteria
such as gas gangrene, tetanus and rabies...so that even a scratch would
be deadly." The University of Toronto, with the government's and
President Cody's blessings, became heavily engaged in both chemical
and biological warfare research.