Adjunct Professor Gerhard Werner Dies

Dr. Gerhard Werner, an adjunct professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, passed away at age 90 on March 26, 2012.

Werner had been associated with biomedical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin since 1999.


  Gerhard Werner is pictured here, celebrating his 90th
  birthday. On November 11, 2010, Dr. Werner presented
  a well-attended and insightful seminar to faculty and
  graduate students in the Department of Biomedical
  Engineering. He was present at the department's
  undergraduate research symposia and was always keen to
  visit with students about their findings. In addition, he was
  still active with his own research. His latest paper, "From
  brain states to mental phenomena via phase space transitions
  and renormalization group transformation: proposal of a theory"
  was published online in Cognitive Neurodynamics in January 2012.

“Gerhard was a wonderful colleague who, at age 90, was still working every day in his office in the first floor of the BME building,” says Department of Biomedical Engineering Chair Nicholas Peppas. “He was present at department seminars was sure to stop and greet all of us, always with a smile. He was truly interested in the latest developments in our field and would spend time talking with the students about their findings.”

Born in 1921, Gerhard Werner was a graduate of the Medical School of the University of Vienna, Austria where he also studied mathematics and theoretical physics. His first academic appointment was in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Vienna Medical Center.

Along with colleagues, he discovered the drug succinylcholine as a medication for controlled muscle paralysis in anesthesiology. Its clinical usefulness has remained unsurpassed for the past 60 years. In the 1950s, he was a visiting scientist in Calcutta, India and Sao Paulo, Brazil, under the auspices of the World Health Organization and the Rockefeller Foundation, respectively. Dr. Werner immigrated to the USA in 1957 to work with New York City’s Weil Cornell Medical College in a tenured position. During that period he discovered pharmacologically active receptors at mammalian motor nerve terminals. In 1960, he joined Professor Vernon B. Mountcastle at Johns Hopkins University where he studied the representation of tactile and joint sensation in the somatic area I of the cerebral cortex, introducing novel approaches for characterizing single neuron activity in relation to psychophysical functions. This work introduced him to computer science, which became a main part of his research for the next 50 years. 

In 1965, he became Chair of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh, and in 1974, he was appointed as Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and Vice President for Professional Affairs at the University Health Center. Following his retirement in 1989, he served as an Associate Chief of Staff at a Veterans Administration Medical Center in Pittsburgh and then as Research Scientist with Motorola in Austin, Texas. He became an adjunct professor of the Department of Biomedical Engineering of The University of Texas at Austin in 2002. Learn more about Werner’s career on Wikipedia.