The Cat Telephone

By Arthur Kim ’18

What do a cat and a telephone have in common? They were the same thing in an experiment conducted in 1929 by Professor Ernest Glen Wever and his research assistant Charles William Bray here at Princeton University. Wever and Bray took an unconscious, but alive, cat and transformed it into a working telephone to test how sound is perceived by the auditory nerve.

Charles W. Bray ’25 and E. Glenn Weaver. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

To do so, they first sedated the cat and opened its skull to better access the auditory nerve. A telephone wire was attached to the nerve and the other end of the wire was connected to a telephone receiver. Bray would speak in the cat’s ears, while Wever would listen through the receiver 50 feet away in a soundproof room. The common notion during this time was that the frequency of the response of a sensory nerve is correlated to the intensity of the stimulus. In the case of the auditory nerve, as a sound becomes louder, the frequency or pitch of the sound received by the ear should be higher. When Bray made a sound with a certain frequency, Wever heard the sound from the receiver at the same frequency. As Bray increased the pitch of the sound, the frequency of the sound Wever heard also increased. This experiment proved that the frequency of the response in the auditory nerve is correlated to the frequency of the sound. To further validate their experiment, Wever and Bray performed more trials with varying conditions. When they placed the wire on other tissues and nerves away from the auditory nerve, the telephone receiver did not produce any sound. In one experiment, they restricted the blood circulation to the cat’s head, which also ceased the transmission of sound from the receiver. From their findings through these experiments, Wever and Bray were awarded the first Howard Crosby Warren Medal of Society by the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 1936.

Soon after, Bray became an Associate Professor at Princeton University and later became the Associate Research Director of the U.S. Air Force Human Resources Research. During World War II, he served as one of the leading scientists of the civilian psychological research for both the National Defense Research Council and the Navy. As for Wever, he became the head of the department of psychology at Princeton and worked with Dr. Julius Lempert of the Lempert Institute of Otology to research on otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the ear that leads to hearing impairment due to the ear’s inability to amplify sound. During World War II, Wever was a consultant to the National Research Council on anti-submarine warfare. He found that men with musical abilities were the best sonar operators, regardless of what instrument they played.

Surprisingly, Wever and Bray were not particularly interested in the practical use of their discovery. Instead they cared more about the protocol and methodology to run these tests. The techniques they developed for the experiment were highly renowned by physicians who used them to study the human hearing. Their research laid a foundation for cochlear implants, devices that convert sound vibrations into electrical signals to the brain.

Sources:

Alumni and Faculty Offprint Collection (AC121)

Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107)

Graduate Alumni Records (AC105)

Undergraduate Academic Records 1921-2015 (AC198)

Undergraduate Alumni Records 1921-2015 (AC199)

 

For further reading:

Wever, Ernest Glen and Charles W. Bray. “Action Currents in the Auditory Nerve in Response to Acoustical Stimulation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 16 (1930): 344-350.

Arthur Kim is a junior in the chemical and biological engineering department at Princeton University.

This Week in Princeton History for April 24-30

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a senior signs an NFL contract, Daylight Saving Time causes confusion, and more.

April 26, 1771—The New Jersey General Assembly passes “An Act to erect the District of Prince-Town into a Town by the name of Princeton.” The College of New Jersey, already referred to as “Prince-Town College” as early as its move to the area in 1756, will become well established colloquially as Princeton College until it officially changes its own name in 1896.

April 27, 1994—Keith Elias ’94 signs on to play professional football with the New York Giants.

Keith Elias ’94, ca. 1993. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

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James A. Baker Papers Opening Soon

By Dan Linke

James A. Baker III ’52, the distinguished public servant and five-time presidential campaign manager who served as the 61st U.S. Secretary of State, will open his papers that are held at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University on January 1, 2018. Donated in 2002, originally the papers were to remain closed during Baker’s lifetime or until his 100th birthday. Soon researchers will be able to examine his work in senior government positions under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, as well as his role in five consecutive presidential campaigns from 1976 to 1992 for Presidents Gerald Ford, Reagan, and Bush.

In 1976 Baker (pictured here) served as President Gerald Ford’s “delegate hunter” in the primary race, successfully fending off a challenge from Ronald Reagan, then went on to lead Ford’s national campaign in the fall. In the 1980 primary, he was the campaign manager for his close friend and tennis partner George H. W. Bush, then joined the Reagan-Bush campaign for the general election. He would then serve as the campaign manager for the subsequent three Republican presidential campaigns.  (From the James A. Baker III Papers, Box 265, Folder 1.)

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This Week in Princeton History for April 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, protesters demand changes to the curriculum, a Dean’s List is instituted, and more.

April 18, 1878—The Princetonian urges the College to allow the Librarian to install gas lights in the library so that it may be kept open after dark.

Chancellor Green Library, 1873. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP26, Image No. 609.

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Margaret Niemann Rost ’85 on Softball and the Senior Thesis

By Cailin Hong ’17

With the women’s softball season underway, Mudd reflects on the team’s not-so-humble origins with a retrospective on Margaret Niemann Rost ’85, former co-captain and one of the team’s first members after the fledgling sport was promoted to varsity status. Rost was a religion major from Ridgewood, New Jersey, who played on both the varsity women’s basketball and softball teams before choosing to focus on softball her senior year. Rost played second base and during her time at Princeton led the team to incredible success, scoring wins against some of the top teams in the NCAA at Temple and University of Massachusetts, despite being a relatively new team and limited in practice dates by Ivy League regulations. As a multi-sport athlete on Princeton’s need-based scholarship, Rost was an example of the University’s commitment to supporting the nation’s brightest minds while promoting “education through athletics”. When asked about the challenges of being a varsity athlete and completing the academic capstone of the Princeton undergraduate experience, the senior thesis, Rost shrugged, “my roommate and I, who’s co-captain of the team, finished it [a 124-page analysis of the writings of Jewish author Chaim Potok] six weeks early so we could fully commit to enjoying the season.”

This recently digitized video highlights Rost’s timeless reflections on the challenges of senior year, balancing “going Independent” with a campus job, and the uncertainty of post-graduation plans. It was filmed just after Rost led the team to their third consecutive Ivy League Championship.

Sources:

Broadcast Center Recordings (AC362)

Daily Princetonian

Niemann, Margaret Ruth. “Varieties of Identities in the Writing of Chaim Potok.” 1985. Senior Thesis Collection (AC102).

This Week in Princeton History for April 10-16

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Chaim Potok kicks off Jewish Heritage Week, a sit in ends, and more.

April 10, 1994—McCosh 50 and two overflow auditoriums fill to hear Chaim Potok’s address to kick off Princeton’s celebration of Jewish Heritage Week.

Chaim Potok, ca. 1994. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 225.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 3-9

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a trespasser is found cooking eggs, the campus mourns Martin Luther King, Jr., and more.

April 3, 1958—While out of town on a trip with the team, Princeton University baseball trainer Fred “Bobo” Holmes saves a woman from bleeding to death after a stabbing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

April 5, 1985—A man found cooking eggs in the Graduate Annex is arrested for trespassing. He is said to be a “habitual offender.”

April 6, 1931—During a debate broadcast over the radio, J. R. Mitchell ’32 argues “That the emergence of women from the home is a deplorable feature of modern life.”

April 9, 1968—Due to activism on the part of the Association for Black Collegians, Princeton University suspends normal operations to memorialize assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. While classes are not held, the U-Store is closed, and libraries delay opening until 3:00PM, small group interracial dialogue seminars follow a meeting with an overflow audience in Alexander Hall. An impassioned plea from Alfred D. Price ’69 receives a standing ovation from the more than 1,200 attendees: “White America does not realize what the black community feels they have at stake. … we don’t have any answers. Neither do you. We’ve got to find answers together.”

Marion Sleet ’69 at a vigil for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Princeton, 1968. Alfred D. Price ’69 says this may have been on the same day as the interracial dialogue seminars: “At the end of the day all of us who had been discussion leaders met up on the front steps of Nassau Hall and I remember Doc Fields having us form a circle and joining hands with our hands crossed in front of us and then clasping the hand of each guy next to us. And there were, I don’t know, 40 or so of us present. And I remember Doc [Carl A.] Fields leading a kind of prayer … And so there we were, all of us standing on the front stoop of Nassau Hall with our hands joined and Fields using that as a teaching moment for us. Why didn’t we join hands sooner? I think that was that day and that’s how that day concluded, but I will never forget the experience. Powerful.” Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 38.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 27-April 2

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, eastern colleges convene to discuss the future of African Americans, a new invention draws interest, and more.

March 27, 1972—A petition to end coeducation is circulating among undergraduates, the Daily Princetonian reports, quoting one student: “I think college should be an ivory tower, and adding girls isn’t necessary.”

March 28, 1871—After one student is diagnosed with smallpox, panic on campus and among parents of current students prompts College of New Jersey (Princeton) president James McCosh to end the term two weeks early. He sends the students home.

March 30, 1967—150 delegates representing 65 Eastern colleges convene at Princeton University for the first conference of its kind to discuss “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate.”

Robert F. Goheen (center) with student attendees of “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate” conference, March 30, 1967. Office of the President Records (AC193), Box 456, Folder 7.

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The Tigress

In 1969, after several years of experiments integrating women into the classroom, Princeton University announced that it would become fully coeducational, admitting women to all of its degree programs. Female undergraduates brought many changes to Princeton traditions with them, but not all of these are present on the 21st-century campus. One new tradition from the 1970s and early 1980s lost to time was a new mascot: The Tigress.

The Tigress in a publicity shot for Triangle Club’s American Zucchini, 1975. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 86.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 20-26

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a junior wins a game show, a graduate makes history at MoMA, and more.

March 20, 2003—Three students are arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway when they sit in the middle of Nassau Street bound to each other with piping to protest the Iraq War. One explains their choice to break the law: “We’ve exhausted all the other means of protest. … Any other tactic seemed inadequate in the light of the horror inherent in the attacks on the Iraqi people.”

March 22, 1951—Richard W. Kazmaier, Jr. ’52 defeats opponents on the television show Blind Date and goes out on the town with Pat Dowd of Brooklyn.

Richard Kazmaier ’52. Photo from 1952 Nassau Herald.

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