Profile: Duncan Mitchell

Honorary Professorial Research Fellow

Born in Germiston, South Africa, Duncan Mitchell now is Emeritus Professor of Physiology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Honorary Professorial Research Fellow in its Brain Function Research Group, from the directorship of which he retired in 2006. He is Adjunct Professor in the School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia, Perth. Before joining the University of the Witwatersrand in 1975, he was on the scientific staff of the National Institute for Medical Research, London, England, and of the Research Organization of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa. His research started in the field of applied human physiology of deep-level mining, and he has added research in neurophysiology, fever physiology, and ecophysiology to a lifelong career in thermal physiology. His interest in neurophysiology has led to a parallel research programme in pain pathophysiology and pharmacology. He has lectured in twenty six countries in the course of his career. He has supervised 43 PhD and MSc students, and published more than 250 papers. He was awarded the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship in 2010 and an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of the Witwatersrand in 2012. With his colleagues and students at the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Western Australia, University of Lethbridge (Canada) and Justus Liebig University (Germany), he currently is pursuing research in conservation physiology related to climate change, in the pathophysiology of pain resulting from HIV and its treatment, and in sickness behaviour.

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Why Do Some People Feel the Cold More than Others?

When HMS Beagle docked at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, Charles Darwin remarked on the capacity of the locals to deal with cold: “A woman, who was suckling a recently born child, came one day alongside the vessel and remained there out of mere curiosity, whilst the sleet fell and thawed on her naked bosom, and on the skin of her naked baby.” Japanese pearl divers dive for long periods in cold water without the comfort of wetsuits, whereas many of us whimper as the waters of the relatively warm Pacific or Indian Oceans reach our midriff. Why is there such variation in our reaction to cold?

Category: Science

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