Róbert Bárány

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Vienna, Austria
Birth Sign
Vienna, Austria

Róbert Bárány was an Austro-Hungarian otologist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1914 for his work on the physiology and pathology of the human vestibular apparatus, which is the sensory system of the inner ear. He served as a civilian surgeon for the Austrian Army during the “First World War,” and after he was awarded the “Nobel Prize” in 1914, he was seized and imprisoned by the Russian Army in a war camp prison. In 1916, he may get the honor. Bárány devised new tests to diagnose vestibular disorders and to investigate the functions of the cerebellum, one of the brain’s areas, and its relationship to disturbances of balance. He worked at Uppsala University from 1917 until his death, first as a physicist and then as Professor and Director of the university’s Otology Department. He spent the latter part of his life researching the causes of muscle rheumatism. He was given the title of ‘Dozent’ in 1909, the ‘ERB Medal’ by the ‘German Neurological Society’ in 1913, and the ‘Guyot Prize’ in 1914, among other honors.

Childhood and Adolescence

He was born on April 22, 1876, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, into a Hungarian-Jewish household as the eldest of six children to Ignáz Bárány and Maria Hock. His father was a bank official and estate manager, and his mother was the daughter of a well-known Prague physicist.

As a child, he had bone tuberculosis, which produced ankylosis, resulting in a persistent stiffness of his knee joint. This ailment is likely to have piqued his interest in the field of medicine. However, his infirmity did not prevent him from going for walks in the hills or playing tennis. He was an outstanding student who maintained his academic excellence throughout his high school and college years.

He obtained his doctorate degree on April 2, 1900, after studying medicine at the ‘University of Vienna.’
He subsequently traveled to Frankfurt am Main, where he worked as an assistant to Professor Carl Harko von Noorden at ‘Städtisches Krankenhaus’ for a year and got internal medical training.

He then studied at Professor Emil Kracpelin’s psychiatric-neurological clinic in Heidelberg and his neurological clinic in Freiburg am Breisgau until April 1902. During this time, he became interested in neurological issues.
After returning to Vienna, he was mentored by Professor Carl Gussenauer and obtained surgical training at the Vienna General Hospital’s surgical clinic.

Career of Róbert Bárány

He was hired as a demonstrator in the ‘Otological Clinic’ of the ‘University of Vienna’ on October 3, 1903, where he worked under Professor Adam Politzer, Austria’s founder of otology. He was attracted by the rhythmic nystagmus created when fluid was syringed in the ear and discovered that it was related to fluid temperature, therefore he looked into the factors that control labyrinthine stimulation.

While working as a doctor in Vienna, he made this remark. While syringing a cold fluid into a patient’s external auditory canal to ease dizzy spells, he noticed that the patient also had nystagmus and vertigo. He next injected warm fluid into the patient, who still had nystagmus, but this time in the other direction.

These findings led him to believe that the endolymph, a fluid found in the membranous labyrinth of the inner ear, was sinking in cold conditions and rising in warm conditions, and that its flowing direction was sending proprioceptive signals to the vestibular organ. He undertook a series of studies in this direction, which he dubbed the caloric response. His contributions to the field of vestibular organ surgery paved the door for surgical treatment of vestibular organ illnesses.

However, in Vienna, there was always a debate about who made the first observations, as it was widely assumed that Bárány began working on the labyrinth after witnessing such demonstrations on experimental animals by Alexander Spitzer. He looked on balance controls, the role of the human ear in maintaining equilibrium, and the activity of the cerebellum in this regard. Before Bárány, several other theoretical researchers used pigeons and rabbits to study the organ of balance, including Josef Breuer, Ernst Mach, and Pierre Flourens.

His major contribution was the clinical use of these human body investigation data, which led to the invention of procedures for analyzing the human body’s equilibrium system. He discovered the laws that control rotary reactions, despite the fact that this equipment was known to respond to rotary sensations. Despite his physical infirmity owing to ankylosis, he volunteered to join the Austrian Army to serve as a civilian surgeon during the ‘First World War’ in 1914. The Russian Army apprehended him and imprisoned him in a war camp prison. After Prince Carl of Sweden intervened on behalf of the ‘Red Cross’ and persuaded the Czar to release him in 1916, he was liberated.

During his visit to Sweden to accept the ‘Nobel Prize’ from King Carl XVI Gustaf, he was invited to take up the chair of otology at the ‘University of Uppsala.’ He began his career at the university in 1917 as a Privatdozent and titular professor, ultimately rising to Professor and Director of the Otology Department in 1926. He continued to work for the institution until he died.

He gained a reputation as a skilled surgeon who treated sinus problems, brain abscesses, and deafness. His humanist, pacifist, and philanthropic initiatives further increased his popularity in Sweden. In 1929, the ‘International Academy of Politics and Social Science for the Promotion of World Peace’ was founded in Sweden, thanks to his encouragement and urging.

He spent the latter part of his life researching the causes of muscular rheumatism and working on a book on it. He published a total of 184 scientific papers. He was a member or honorary member of a number of scientific societies.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the ‘University of Stockholm.’

Achievements & Awards

In 1914, he was given the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. However, after being imprisoned by the Russian Army in a war camp prison, he was awarded the medal by King Gustav V of Sweden in Stockholm in 1916.

Personal History and Legacy

He married Ida Felicitas Berger in 1909, and the pair had two boys and a daughter. Ernst Herbert Bárány, his eldest son, was born on August 8, 1910. Ernst was a physician and a professor of pharmacology at Uppsala University, as well as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Franz Barany, his second son, was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the ‘Caroline Institute’ in Stockholm, where he was born on May 28, 1914.

On January 3, 1918, his only daughter Ingrid was born, and she went on to become a psychiatrist. Bárány died on April 8, 1936, in Uppsala, after a year and a half of suffering from thalamic discomfort. Anders Bárány, the eldest son of his eldest son Ernst, is a theoretical physics scientist. Anders was the secretary of the Nobel Committee in Physics from 1989 to 2003.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of  Róbert Bárány is $1.8 Million