In the Shadow of Greatness

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It is a rare privilege to live in the age of giants whose discoveries change forever the direction of your specialty field.  It is even a greater privilege to be educated by these great minds.  I had the privilege and honor of learning from Dr. B.F. Skinner in the early 70s as he changed my direction to behaviorism which I have practiced for the last 50 years.  In a similar way, Dr. Tony Barker, the inventor of transcranial magnetic stimulation, has changed the course of psychiatry by introducing it to neuromodulation, and in doing so, has certainly changed my focus over the last number of years.

I remember standing with him in the doorway of the Brain Stimulation Exhibit hall in Vancouver in February, filled with various TMS machines and related apparatus.  I asked him what it felt like to be the proximal cause for all that was on display.  The room was filled with elaborate manufacturers??displays with bright lights, well-designed facades and rugs on which to stand while you looked at their machines.  He modestly said that he could not take credit for all that, but in fact he could. 

Dr. Barker gives a wonderful talk called TMS: History, Basic Principles and Practical Considerations.  He begins by saying very modestly that it was a cold day in 1985 when he took a train to London to demonstrate for the first time the ability of an electromagnet to induce the firing of the braincells.  This firing was manifested in the twitch of muscles in the opposite side of the body.  Although he says that his research was the result of 10 years of blue-sky research, in reality it was the outcome of a brilliant and dedicated scientist with an excellent team that led to this important discovery. 

Recently, I had the honor of joining Dr. Barker and other distinguished physicians as a lecturer in the Clinical TMS Society?? Pulses Course in London that trained physicians and technicians in the basics of TMS.  The Pulses course was given at the prestigious Institution of Engineering and Technology where Dr. Barker is a Fellow. The IET is made up from over forty predecessor organizations that can trace their history as far back as 1854 with the Society of Engineers.  Just recently he received a letter and a lapel pin from the IEE denoting his 50 years of membership. 

          Prior to the start of the Pulses course, we were given a guided tour of the Royal Institute by Professor Frank James, who is its ‘Professor of the History of Science and Head of Collections’.  This Institute is another building steeped in history with some of the greatest scientists of our times.   Included in the Royal Institute is the Michael Faraday Museum. Inside the Faraday Museum was a fascinating display room of Faraday?? lab as it was in the mid-1800s.  Apparently, it was moved from its original spot to the Faraday Museum and now has a plexiglass wall covering one side of the room so there is a wonderful, full view display of his lab and equipment (Figs. 1 and 2).



The other highlight was seeing the actual coil that Faraday built, with which he conducted his original experiment on magnetic induction.  It is now displayed by itself in a display case that can be seen from opposite sides of the wall (Fig 3).



Dr. Barker says that this has changed from the way that the coil was originally displayed, and he liked the original display better.  The importance of Michael Faraday?? discovery of magnetic induction is demonstrated by it appearing in relief in the parquet of the ceiling (Fig.3).



It turns out that Dr. Barker has a distinguished history with the Royal Institute, as he was invited to give a Friday Evening Discourse on October 17, 1997 as part of the formal lecture series that has been running since its inception by Michael Faraday himself in 1825.  Dr. Barker spoke in the main lecture theater and stood at the exact spot where Faraday gave his discourses from 1825 onwards, and where they have been held ever since.  The title of his presentation was ??lectricity, Magnetism in the Body,??and I will discuss some fascinating aspects of this paper at another time. 

Another interesting characteristic of these two institutes is the fact that both have large marble statues of Michael Faraday that are identical, except the statute at the Royal Institute is inside the foyer and is white (Fig 4) and the one at the IEE is in a small garden at the front of the building and is black (Fig 5).




The Pulses Course has something no other TMS course has??he inventor of TMS.  It is worth the price of admission just to listen to Dr. Barker?? presentation and eavesdrop on his conversations with others as his knowledge is only matched by his wit and charm describing the fascinating aspects of neuromodulation.