Weis-Fogh, Torkel, 1922-1975 (zoologist)
- Existence: 1922 - 1975
Torkel Weis-Fogh (1922-1975), zoologist, was born in Aarhus, Denmark. In 1940 he became a student at Copenhagen University, where his earliest research work was in soil microbiology. In 1947 he started work as research assistant to the distinguished Danish physiologist and Nobel prizewinner August Krogh. The study of the desert locust Schistocerca Gregaria, begun in Krogh's laboratory, was to occupy Weis-Fogh for much of his life. After Krogh's death in 1949 Weish-Fogh continued as head of the laboratory until 1953, amassing a wealth of data relating to the flight mechanics of the desert locust. He spent a year at the Copenhagen Institute of Neurophysiology, before working for four years in Cambridge with a Rockefeller Fellowship, followed by a Balfour Studentship. During Weis-Fogh's last year at Cambridge he isolated a new type of rubber-like protein in insect cuticle in the course of his research into the workings of insect flight muscle. The discovery was announced at the XVth International Congress of Zoology, July 1958, and the protein was later named 'resilin'. From 1958 to 1966 Weis-Fogh worked in Copenhagen as Professor of Zoophysiology. Most of his research during that time was concentrated on analysing resilin. In 1966 he returned to Cambridge as Professor of Zoology and Head of the Department of Zoology. This position enabled him to pursue several related research interests simultaneously. An investigation into the mode of formation of insect cuticle, mainly carried out in 1967-1969, led to a study of the molecular basis of resilin and elastin, and the discovery of a new contractile mechanism in the spasmonemes of protozoa. In connection with these studies Weis-Fogh was also instrumental in the setting up of the Biological Microprobe Laboratory, Department of Zoology, Cambridge, to develop techniques of electron-probe X-ray microanalysis on frozen-hydrated soft biological material. Weish-Fogh never lost his early interest in the problems of insect flight and he returned to them with renewed vigour during this period. In 1973 he published a paper containing a mathematical explanation for the flight of very small insects which orthodox aerodynamic theory had been unable to account for. This discovery was named by Sir James Lighthill 'the Weis-Fogh mechanism of lift generation'.