Steven Kuffler was born in Austria-Hungary in 1913. He attended medical school in Vienna and earned his M.D. in 1937. He fled the German occupation in 1938, moved first to England, then emigrated to Australia and eventually ended up in the US, where he formed an interdisciplinary team at the Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. That team included David H. Hubel, Torsten N. Wiesel, Edwin Furshpan, and David Potter. Soon after, at the invitation of Otto Krayer, professor at the Department of Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, the team moved to Boston, where they were soon joined by the biochemist Edward Kravitz. By 1966, they founded and constituted the world’s first Department of Neurobiology. As a group, they applied physiological, biochemical, anatomical and histological techniques to the exploration of the nervous system.
“…Although he tackled a wide range of fundamental problems, a continuous thread ran through his work: the desire to understand how neurons that make up the brain carry out their functions. To this end he made electrical recordings, often requiring hours of skilled dissection, to study the functional properties of individual nerve cells and muscle fibers in invertebrates, frogs, and mammals.
A characteristic feature of his experiments was the use of whatever electrical, biochemical, or morphological techniques were necessary for solving the problem. This approach produced a major change in the study of the nervous system. By virtue of his superb research, his personality, and the generations of students that he inspired and influenced, he was an undisputed leader and dominant figure in neurobiology. To all his friends, colleagues, and students he was known as Steve.“
John G. Nicholls, reminiscing in the National Academy of Sciences Biography of Kuffler