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J Hist Neurosci. 2014;23(3):276-86. doi: 10.1080/0964704X.2013.867600. Epub 2014 Apr 15.

Adolf Beck: a forgotten pioneer in electroencephalography.

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a Department of Biological Psychology , Donders Centre for Cognition, Radboud University , Nijmegen , The Netherlands.


Adolf Beck, born in 1863 at Cracow (Poland), joined the Department of Physiology of the Jagiellonian University in 1880 to work directly under the supervision of the prominent physiology professor, Napoleon Cybulski. Following his suggestion, Beck started experimental studies on the electrical brain activity of animals, especially in response to sensory stimulation. Beck placed electrodes directly on the surface of brain to localize brain potentials that were evoked by sensory stimuli. He observed spontaneous fluctuations in the electrical brain activity and noted that these oscillations ceased after sensory stimulation. He published these findings concerning the electrical brain activity, such as spontaneous fluctuations, evoked potentials, and desynchronization of brain waves, in 1890 in the German language Centralblatt für Physiologie. Moreover, an intense polemic arose between physiologists of that era on the question of who should claim being the founder of electroencephalography. Ultimately, Richard Caton from Liverpool showed that he had performed similar experiments in monkeys years earlier. Nevertheless, Beck added new elements to the nature of electrical brain activity. In retrospect, next to Richard Caton, Adolf Beck can be regarded, together with Hans Berger who later introduced the method to humans, as one of the founders of electroencephalography. Soon after his success, Beck got a chair at the Department of Physiology of the University at Lemberg, now Lviv National Medical University.


Adolf Beck; Hans Berger; Jagiellonian University; Napoleon Cybulski; Richard Caton; University of Lemberg; desynchronization; electrocorticography; electroencephalography; evoked potential; spontaneous oscillations

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