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Donald R. Griffin papers, Rockefeller University Faculty (FA164)

Biographical/Historical Note

Donald Redfield Griffin (August 3, 1915 - November 7, 2003)

Donald Redfield Griffin was born in Southampton, Long Island, New York, the only child of Henry Ferrand Griffin and Mary Whitney Redfield Griffin. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and subsequently earned Bachelor of Science (1938), Master's (1940), and Ph. D (1942) degrees from Harvard University. He married twice – to Ruth Castle in 1941 and to Jocelyn Crane (also a scientist) in December 1965. He had four children: Nancy, Janet, and twins Margaret and John. His hobby was sailing. Donald Griffin died November 7, 2003 in Lexington, Massachusetts.

While still in high school, Griffin began an extensive project banding bats in the American Northeast, enlisting friends and area residents to help, and banding over 16,000 bats between 1935 and 1938. (Carolyn A. Ristau, "Donald Redfield Griffin," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 149, No. 3 (September 2005), p. 404.). Bat banding continued over the years, although less intensively. Some banding activities were based at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts where his uncle, Alfred C. Redfield, was affiliated (later Associate Director). Redfield was also chairman of Harvard's Division of Biology and was a significant influence on his nephew. Scientific interests ran in the Redfield family. Griffin's great-great grandfather was the first president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; his great-grandfather was a botanist, and his grandfather was a nature photographer. (Roger Revelle, "Alfred C. Redfield: A Biographical Memoir," Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1995, p. 315.).

Career Although known primarily for studying bats, Griffin also researched bird navigation and orientation as well as animal thinking and behavior. While a student, Griffin learned to fly a plane and followed birds in order to better understand their navigation and homing techniques. In the 1930s, some of his bird observation work was conducted from Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick. In 1939, he received a summer fellowship at the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, New York and later published journal articles based on his bat banding and research there. Also from the 1930s and into the 1950s, he banded and observed birds in connection with the O. L. Austin Ornithological Research Station in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

After earning his doctorate, Griffin continued at Harvard as a Junior Fellow, teaching assistant in biology, and research associate in Harvard's Psycho-Acoustic Fatigue Laboratory which had United States military contracts to research ways of improving clothing for cold weather use, among other projects. Part of his government-funded work during the war related to communication equipment research and physiological optics.

In the summer of 1946, Griffin was appointed professor of zoology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. While there, he continued pursuing his special interests outside of the university laboratory. In addition to Cornell studies of birds on Bonaventure Island (Quebec, Canada), and Caribou, Maine, he and colleagues took trips to the Bowdoin Scientific Station's Kent Island facility in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada where they studied bird orientation and navigation. In 1952-53, Griffin, accompanied by photographer Dr. Guillermo Zuloaga of Creole Petroleum, studied acoustic orientation of oil birds in Venezuela.

Although Griffin's post-war research from 1947 through 1953 focused more on bird migration patterns, the use of radioactive isotopes in bird tracking, and the physiology of orientation than on bats, he also explored fish hearing and bat radar. Much of his research was conducted for the U.S. Office of Naval Research, primarily in summers, at the Arctic Research Laboratory in Point Barrow, Alaska, and for the Air Force's Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska. His Air Force projects in Alaska included investigating the insulating qualities of small mammals' fur.

He returned to Harvard University as professor of zoology in fall 1953 where he was Chairman of the Biology Department 1962-1965. During his time at Harvard, he resumed his studies into bats' use of echolocation, the word coined by him, to determine the size, distance, and location of objects including prey. Outside of his university laboratory, Griffin continued independent research into bat navigation and bird orientation, often at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In the summer of 1965 he moved to Rockefeller Institute (now University) in New York City and served as their Director of the Institute of Research in Animal Behavior until 1969. His professorship at Rockefeller University was concurrent with a Fellowship from New York Zoological Society. A major project of the NYZS involved periodic visits to the Beebe Tropical Research Station in Simla, Trinidad studying bat visual detection and echolocation and abilities of fish-catching bats. During the late 1960's and 1970's Griffin returned to studies of birds' ability to navigate in clouds when neither the sky nor ground was visible to them for orientation. In his later years at Rockefeller University, he spent more time concentrating on animal cognition and communication.

He retired from Rockefeller University in 1986, and was emeritus professor of animal behavior until his death. In retirement, he continued to research and write, and was an Associate of Zoology with Harvard's Concord Field Station of the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Honors In 1952 Griffin was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also a fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a Scientific Fellow of the New York Zoological Society. In December 1978, Griffin became President of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and continued for four years. His professional organization affiliations included the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Ornithologists Union, American Philosophical Society, American Physiological Society, American Society of Mammalogists, and National Academy of Sciences

Publications Griffin published many articles and books, including Listening in the Dark (1958) for which he was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences; Echoes of Bats and Men (1959); Animal Structure and Function (1962); Bird Migration (1964) for which he won the Phi Beta Kappa Science Prize; The Question of Animal Awareness: Evolutionary Continuity of Mental Experience (1976, revised edition 1981), Animal Thinking (1984), and Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness (1992) .

Scientific Significance In a January 16, 1954 letter to Scientific American, Griffin wrote, "The bulk of my research work has centered around the sensory physiology of animal orientation, and this interest grew out of boyhood leanings towards natural history." As a Harvard undergraduate, he and Robert Galambos began monitoring and recording bat sounds using technology developed by physicist G. W. Pierce and methods of Hallowell Davis. This research led to an understanding of echolocation—the term Griffin coined in 1944 to describe bats' ability to navigate around obstacles by using supersonic sounds and the feedback from those. Griffin banded bats into the 1950s which led to new discoveries in bat longevity and migration. He used kite-balloons and planes to study bat and bird navigation. His research into the acoustic orientation of bats was eventually useful in developing aids for blind people. After decades of studying animal navigation, primarily in bats and birds, in the 1970s he began to explore animal thought processes. His pioneering studies on animal communication, behavior in natural circumstances, and learning contributed to the new field of cognitive ethology—the ability of animals to consciously use sophisticated thinking and reasoning in interactions with their environment, humans, and other animals.

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