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Tributes paid to Professor Ian Glynn

Fellows have paid tribute to the physiologist, Professor Ian Glynn, FRS, FRCP, who died on 7 July 2022 at the age of 94.

Born in 1928 and growing up in Hackney, there was literally a skeleton in the family closet, which had been studied by three generations of his family.

As an undergraduate at Trinity, his Director of Studies was Alan Hodgkin who subsequently offered him a place as a research student in the Physiology Lab. Ian Glynn took up this place in the spring of 1953 after completing six months as house physician at the Central Middlesex Hospital to complete his medical training. In 1955 he was elected to a Research Fellowship at Trinity and in the following year completed his PhD.

As part of his National Service, Glynn was appointed Medical Officer to RAF Sutton Bridge.

In his 80th birthday speech to Trinity Fellows, Glynn recalled it was ‘perhaps the least glamorous unit in the Air Force, a small hutted camp on reclaimed land near King’s Lynn, whose job it was to service two kinds of aero engine (both already obsolescent), and to pick up any bits of crashed aircraft in East Anglia before they demoralised more important parts of the Air Force.’

For me, though, Sutton Bridge had the great advantage that I could remain in touch with Cambridge.

At the end of 1957 the unit at Sutton Bridge was closed down, and I was released from the RAF on condition that I spent the remaining half-year of my national service helping  the  surgical  team  at  Papworth,  who  were  trying  to  establish  techniques  for open-heart surgery using an artificial heart-lung machine.

Glynn’s understanding of hydraulics solved the difficulties the team had experienced in developing an artificial heart-lung machine for pumping and aerating blood.

His interest in the movement of ions built on the research of Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley, who worked together on the mechanism of conduction in nerves, which led to their Nobel Prize (shared with Sir John Carew Eccles) in 1963.

Trinity Fellow, Professor Andrew Crawford, explains Glynn’s work on the ‘sodium pump.’

Ian Glynn had a reputation in the Physiology Department as a consummate experimentalist who worked out the membrane mechanism whereby red blood cells regulate their ion concentrations, osmotic pressure and size. The same enzyme – the sodium-potassium pump – also controls the flow of water and solutes across transporting tissues such as those in the kidney and the intestines. He was aided by a constant stream of talented overseas post-doctoral workers.

I once asked a lecturer with similar interests in another biology department, why Ian was so successful and was told that no one could do the experiments like Ian.

Glynn was Vice-Master of Trinity, 1980-1986, and Professor of Physiology at Cambridge 1986-1995, when he became Professor Emeritus. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1970 and held Honorary Foreign Membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Later in life, Glynn published two books for a general readership: An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind (2003) and Elegance in Science: The beauty of simplicity (2010).

He is survived by his wife Jenifer, the sister of the scientist Rosalind Franklin, who has always been at Ian’s side as part of the Trinity College community, and their children, Sarah, Judith and Simon.

Professor Ian Glynn

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