William Barry Wood


William Barry Wood, summa graduate from Harvard in 1932 and now a professor at the Johns Hopkins medical school, has no trouble whatever remembering the specific incident that started him on his career as a microbiologist. Midway through his junor year, Wood chanced upon chemistry professor James B. Conant in the hallway outside a laboratory. Conant mentioned that one of his friends was currently investigating the relation between blood count and physical exercise. He suggested that a smart undergraduate might find the work interesting; and he conjectured that the men running the exercise project might be happy to have Wood around.

When he guessed that the project administrator might find Wood's presence handy, Conant was on pretty safe ground. As part of their study, the researchers hoped to check the blood counts of college athletes. Wood had already collected four of his eventual ten varsity letters, and undoubtedly knew more athletes than any other man in the College.

Wood joined the project, and the following Fall arranged for his fellow researchers to get small blood samples from football players during half time. In the Winter, he managed to secure samples from hockey players as they rested during the five or six minute intervals between line changes. Wood, of course, was a member of both teams and contributed many samples himself.

Dr. Wood, who for the past few days has been in Cambridge as a guest of Dunster House, has concentrated most of his subsequent research in this same field. During the war, he served as a government consultant on the project that developed combat applications for sulfanilamide and penicillin, two drugs which aid the natural action of white blood cells against infection. Currently, he is studying the process by which blood cells produce the substance that raises a fever.

Wood spends most of his time either in this sort of research or in medical teaching, and the only administrative post he now holds is the chairmanship of the Johns Hopkins microbiology department. When he first came to Hopkins, in 1955, from St. Louis's Washington University, he served as vice-president in charge of medical affairs. He successfully shepherded the medical school through a four-year transitional period between the end of one university president's tenure and the firm establishment of the next regime, and then relinquished his administrative duties to return to his work in medical science.

Wood's current visit to Cambridge is his first in some time, though he was here frequently during a term on the College's board of Overseers in the mid 1950's. So far this trip, his contact with undergraduates has for the most part been confined to technical conversations with small groups of pre-medical students; but he will reach a rather larger and perhaps more diverse group this evening with a lecture at Dunster discussing the impact of scientific advance on the practive of medicine. The most significant change he sees between what the College is today and what it was in the '30's is the flowering of the House plan; he refuses to single out any one moment from his own college days as the best, but feels that among the worst was losing to Yale 3-0 in his senior year.