It is hard to be in Philadelphia without thinking of Benjamin Franklin. Aside from the important roles he played in the founding of America and the discovery of electricity, he was also an early pioneer in the studies of the properties of oil monolayers on water. In the recent review Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s Favorite Son, was a Membrane Biophysicist published in the Biophysical Journal on the occasion of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society in Philadelphia, society members Da-Neng Wang and Lukas Tamm use Franklin’s own words to describe his background in biophysics.
During one of his many voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, Franklin observed that oil had a calming effect on waves when poured into rough ocean waters. Though he was busy with many other scientific and political endeavors, Franklin eventually found time to experiment with oil. By spreading monomolecular films on various bodies of water, he was ultimately able to devise a concept of particle repulsion that is indirectly related to the hydrophobic effect. His early observations inspired others including Agnes Pockels, Lord Rayleigh and Irving Langmuir to measure the dimensions of oil monolayers, which combined with pediatrician Evert Gorter’s pioneering experiments with red blood cells eventually led to the formulation of the current lipid bilayer model of the cell membrane.
– Da-Neng Wang and Lukas Tamm