This Month in History: Dr. Marilyn Zimny and the Great Squirrel-Stronaut

This month in 1960, the Times-Picayune ran an article entitled, ÔÇ£Ground Squirrel Called Ideal Space Traveler.ÔÇØ In the article, Dr. Marilyn Zimny, scientist at the LSU Medical School and avid squirrel-enthusiast, tells of the amazing potential for ground squirrels to travel in outer space and to serve as instruments of research on forced-hibernation scenarios and metabolism studies.

Being so adaptable to extreme conditions, the squirrels appear to be ideal candidates for researching regulated slowing of metabolism as they are able to hibernate for long periods of time without damaging their vital organs: heart, brain, and kidneys remain intact. Advancement in this area of reduced energy consummation would possibly provide some insight into the development of a drug that could force a lower metabolism and thus a decreased need for food, water, and oxygen, a state perhaps preferable for astronauts during prolonged space travel and servicemen in cold climates. ?áThis drug could also reduce blood flow during recovery periods after a heart attack or stroke.

Although I can find no evidence that ground squirrels have indeed been launched into space, a slew of animals pre-dated human travel. The list of adventuring animals includes rhesus and squirrel-monkeys as well as mice, rats, rabbits, fruit flies, a guinea pig, a cat, chimpanzees, dogs, etc. These brave animals helped determine the conditions necessary for humans to survive spaceflight.

Dr. Zimny’s fascination with squirrels penetrated her personal life as well as her professional developmentÔÇöprofessing to own over 160 at the time of this article and in search of more (an abundance can apparently be found in some Chicago golf courses). She authored ÔÇ£Metabolism of some carbohydrate and phosphate compounds during hibernation in the ground squirrel,ÔÇØ published in the Journal of Cellular and Comparative Physiology, ÔÇ£Carbohydrate metabolism in ground squirrels during the summer season,ÔÇØ published in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, among many others. Zimny continued her study of the rodents in order to develop a field of research that would include them as test subjects.

Her career at LSU began in 1954, leading her to a full professorship approximately ten years later. According to one Faculty Vignette, her students ÔÇ£were affectionately known as her ÔÇÿground squirrels.ÔÇÖÔÇØ She went on to become the first female department head at the LSU School of Medicine in 1975, and although she passed away in January 2006, her legacy lives on in her renown. A recent article on POPSCI tells about the successful induction of hibernation in arctic ground squirrels. Dr. ZimnyÔÇÖs warm regard for the critters appears well-places as they continues to be relevant to the study of metabolism regulation.

You can further explore squirrel-related news and other intricacies of our Digital Collections by following this link.


Glimpse of the Past is an ongoing project to promote the Louisiana Digital Library. This Month in History will present for your reading pleasure a closer look into a newspaper clipping of note from our Digital Collections and articles relating to the LSU Medical School.

1st Chemotherapy Agent Used 100 years ago

Paul Ehrlich developed what is now recognized as the first chemotherapy agent 100 years ago. On August 31, 1909 his 606th compound of arsenobenzene was developed. He was searching for a way to treat syphillis.

Public Health Service Celebrates 211th Birthday

Today (July 16th) is the 211th birthday of the US Public Health Service. The service was created by Act of Congress for “the relief of sick and disabled seaman” and organized a loose network of Marine Hospitals.

Today the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS states as it’s mission “to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation.” The USPHS offered free tetanus shots at locales throughout South Louisiana in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

~I got mine on Jefferson Highway from a nurse from Rhode Island.~

Scourge of Scurvy – Defeated over 260 years ago

On this date in 1747, a Scottish Naval physician began the testing that uncovered the cause of scurvy and lead to its cure. So go eat an orange today, in honor of Dr. James Lind.

Where Circle Bar and Medical History Meet

A recent inquiry to Blake Pontchartrain, New Orleans Know-It-All, revealed a very interesting link between New Orleans and Medical History.

According to Blake, “The last house standing at 1032 St. Charles Avenue. . . was once the office of Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, the first woman to practice medicine in New Orleans.”

The historic building now serves as Circle Bar.

Dr. Cohen was not only the first woman to practice medicine in New Orleans, but also the first female physician licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana.

The life of Dr. Elizabeth Magnus Cohen is one with many challenges and triumphs that not only impacted the history of New Orleans, but the role of women in medicine as well.

The 2000th clipping is poetry to my ears

The Library’s Digital Projects reached a milestone today as the two-thousandth article from the historic newspaper clippings file was scanned and uploaded into our collection on the Louisiana Digital Library.

The November 1951 article is about Dr. George W. Cooper, an LSU physician and poet-hobbyist, who is pictured receiving an award from the New Orleans Poetry Forum. Dr. Cooper won second place for his poem “Witches Cauldron” that year, and in 1950 was featured as an “Orleanian who writes books“.

Do you have a book of Dr. Cooper’s poetry? We’d love to read his award winning poem!

About the Historic newspaper clippings file:
Since 1933, the library at LSU Sciences Center New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO) has collected newspaper clippings relating to the history and accomplishments of Louisiana’s first public health sciences institution. The Newspaper Clippings Collection is an ongoing project that will eventually index over 70 years of news about LSU’s professional schools of the health sciences. Primarily indexing papers such as the States-Item, Times-Picayune and other local news sources, information can be found on events and news surrounding LSU Medical Center, Charity Hospital, LSU Health Sciences Center Academic and the Healthcare Network, and LSUHSC faculty, staff, and students. Due to copyright, images from this collection are restricted to patrons on the LSUHSC-New Orleans campus. Metadata is viewable to anyone. For questions or more information, contact

Life Images Online

I stumbled across the Life Photo Archives this morning. The photos date from the 1750s through today and most were never published. Of course, I had to see if there were any photos relating to medicine and New Orleans. Here’s what I found:
smoking baboon
This photo dates from June 1966 and features “Medical Technician Robert Mitchell working with the baboon that he taught to smoke for research on cancer & heart disease at the LA state Univ. medical school.” Photos are available for “personal non-commercial use.”

Inauguration History

The Library of Congress had created a history of presidential inaugurations page.

To watch today’s inauguration on campus, there are two choices:
The broadcast will be shown in the Medical Education Building, Lecture Room A, from 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM. Classes will end at 10:45 AM. Due to the continuing construction on the 2nd floor of the MEB, please use the 1st floor to enter and leave the Lecture Room.

In addition to the Lecture Room, for those wishing to view the coverage from their computer, the broadcast will be available from our web servers at To view the broadcast, click on the preceding link using Internet Explorer on a computer with a wired connection. The broadcast will be available at the Schools of Dentistry and Public Health and all buildings on the downtown campus. The broadcast will not be available at the LSU Interim Hospital or via Citrix, VPN or wireless connections.” from an email from the Chancellor.

Alferez Frieze – Library Commons’ Sculpture

Yesterday another milestone was reached in the completion of the Library Commons. “The Conquest of Yellow Fever” frieze by Enrique Alferez was mounted in a specially prepared wall. (Specially prepared because the frieze weighs about 2 tons.)

Conquest of Yellow Fever frieze by Enrique Alferez

Conquest of Yellow Fever frieze by Enrique Alferez

The frieze originally hung on the 2nd floor of the original School of Medicine building and was completed sometime before 1933. The frieze was removed from the wall at 1542 Tulane Avenue in 1987 when a proposed drop ceiling would have covered it; the sculpture’s champion was former LSUHSC Libraries Director Judith Caruthers. Sometime before it’s removal it was accidentally painted institutional green (prior to 1961) covering the original aluminum coating (over plaster). It was stored in the Library (both at 1542 and at the then new Resource Center Library, now John P. Isché Library). It was sent to a conservator for restoration in 1999.
Alferez frieze pre-restoration

Alferez frieze pre-restoration

The conservator will complete the restoration now that the piece is in place. The frieze will be beautiful addition to the Library Commons.

Watch out for those sailors

An amusing news item from the New Orleans States, 23 March 1950 speaks to the cautions of associating with nameless seamen:

Fractures arm, leg in accident
James Garner, 29 years old, 421 S. Galvez, suffered fractures of the right arm and leg when his automobile crashed into a lamp post at St. Peters and S. Diamond early today.

Garner, an LSU medical student, said a sailor whose name he did not know was driving the auto. The sailor fled the scene. Garner was treated at Charity hospital and transferred to Hotel Dieu.

You can view this and other snippets of LSUHSC history in the Louisiana Digital Library’s LSUHSC Newspaper Clippings Collection.

Scientific congresses, old and new

The American Heart Association just wrapped their Scientific Sessions 2008 at the Morial Convention Center, which drew over 30,000 health professionals to the area this week. Meeting abstracts are available online for free in Circulation.

Back in the 1930’s, 3,500 people was big news. A Times-Picayune newspaper clipping from November 11, 1937 announces: “3500 will attend Southern Medics Convention here,” reporting on the 31st meeting of the Southern Medical Association, which met in New Orleans in 1909, 1923 and 1931 as well. In 1949, surgeons from around the world flew into Moisant Airport to attend the 13th Congress of the International Society of Surgery, where for the first time television was used to broadcast over 20 operations to surgeons watching in the nearby Roosevelt Hotel. (Britain’s representative was cautious of the use of video in training, however.) LSU’s own Dr. James D. Rives performed intricate lung surgery in Charity hospital, using WDSU’s facilities. You can view and read more LSU history in our Historic Newspaper Clippings Collection on the Louisiana Digital Library.