Original Trustees

Four of the original Trustees of The Grass Foundation. From left to right: Albert Grass, Frederic Gibbs, Ellen Grass, Robert Morison, and Erna Gibbs (not a Trustee) at the III International Congress of Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology held in Boston from August 17–21, 1953.

Alexander Forbes

As one of the founding Trustees of the Grass Foundation he endowed that organization with a love for the adventure of new ideas, a priority for assisting young investigators, and a program focus to direct its resources to the growth of neurophysiology. Because he was a life-long neighbor of MBL and collaborator and friend of many of the early MBL community, the Grass Foundation has named these two annual lectures as an on-going memorial.

Albert & Ellen Grass

Albert and Ellen Grass in 1955, the year that The Grass Foundation was formed. This picture was copied from a newspaper article entitled “Doctors Told of Findings by Quincy ‘Brain’ Machine” in the Quincy Patriot Ledger, Saturday, October 8, 1955.

Ricardo Miledi & Albert Grass

Albert Grass and Ricardo Miledi in 1990 at Woods Hole, Massachusetts when Miledi was a Forbes Lecturer for the second time.

Ricardo Miledi & Albert Grass

1955 at the Marine Biological Laboratory when Miledi was a Grass Fellow

The Origins of The Grass Foundation


In the fall of 1935, Albert M. Grass and Ellen H. Robinson both came to the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School (HMS). This entirely fortuitous confluence of their lives led to their marriage, to a commercial endeavor the Grass Instrument Company that would provide equipment of high quality to neuroscientists and other physiologists for over half a century, and finally to the formation of The Grass Foundation, which has benefited the neuroscience community since 1955.

The Department of Physiology at Harvard the seedbed for these accomplishments had a deep-rooted commitment to providing both financial and moral support to scientists who were at the beginning of their careers. Albert and Ellen clearly benefited from this commitment, for it generated interactions and collaborations that led to and facilitated the success of the Grass Instrument Company and then the Foundation.

Thus, the origins of The Grass Foundation must be sought, not only in the conjoined histories and proclivities of Albert M. and Ellen R. Grass, but also in scientific and educational developments that took place in the HMS Department of Physiology between 1906 and 1935, well before Albert and Ellen met there. This essay is an attempt to dissect those tangled threads; it ends with a discussion of The Grass Foundation's hallmark program the Grass Fellowship Program at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and the impact that this program has had on neuroscience.

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Also refer to the list of Forbes Lecturers and former Grass Fellows and the short biography of Alexander Forbes.

Biological Bulletin, 201: 218-226 (2001)
(reprinted with permission from the publisher and the author.)

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