Denham Harman conceives of free radical theory of aging one morning in 1954

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“The first four months at Donner [the Donner Laboratory of Medical Physics at the University of California Berkeley] was a period of progressively increasing frustration. Every possible lead I thought of led nowhere. The frustration ended suddenly one morning during the first part of November, 1954.”


“While reading in my office, it suddenly occurred to me that free radical reactions, however initiated, could be responsible for the progressive deterioration of biological systems with time because of their inherent ability to produce random change.

I realized that free radicals could account for all the phenomena that I knew about because they were irreversible reactions. At that time there was no datum to indicate they were going on in the human body, but it was quite obvious that they had to go on because it was just the nature of chemistry. Our cells are exposed to oxygen all the time and I reasoned that there was a strong probability that free radical reactions were occurring.

This would tie together all the material I knew — the biology and the chemistry made sense when I looked at it from that point of view.”

from interview with Richard Passwater


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