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Curt Richter, 94; Discovered Body’s Biorhythms

From Times Wire Services

Curt Paul Richter, a psychobiologist credited with the discovery of biorhythms and identifying the behavior that keeps the body nutritionally balanced, died Wednesday at 94.

A professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Richter died of natural causes at a retirement community in Baltimore, said Phil Kibak, a Johns Hopkins spokesman.

He had remained active until his retirement in 1975, said Dr. Paul McHugh, director and chairman of the Hopkins department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

McHugh said Richter was best known for his work identifying bodily controls on instincts.

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“He was the one who demonstrated that the sleep-wake cycle was in fact a clock-like driven behavior in which you could make predictions when the animal and man would become sleepy and wake on a regular basis,” McHugh said.

That research eventually showed that the brain had an “internal clock.”

Richter’s work opened up the domain of the psychological basis of instincts and offered a physiological basis for a variety of biorhythms.

Richter also engaged in research with immediate applications, including lie detector tests and how rats might be controlled in big cities.

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Richter’s 1927 paper on animal behavior and the internal mechanisms that drive their behavior is widely regarded as having spurred research on how behavior affects health.

Richter is also credited with discovering that behavior will automatically seek to keep the body nutritionally balanced.

In a series of what became known as the “cafeteria experiments,” Richter deprived mice of certain nutrients, such as potassium and salt. He then set various foods before the animals and found that the mice ate those that offered high concentrations of nutrients their bodies lacked, McHugh said.

“He demonstrated the wisdom of the body expressed in behavior,” McHugh said.

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Born in Denver, Richter earned an undergraduate degree in 1917 from Harvard University and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1921.

He was frequently nominated for the Nobel Prize, McHugh said, but was never awarded one.

He was the recipient in 1977 of the prestigious Passano Award, given each year to those who make outstanding contributions to medical science.


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