Did You Know? – From the Archives – March 2011

Posted on March 24, 2011

To recognize Eadweard Muybridge’s position as one of the forefathers of biomechanics our society’s most prestigious award is named after him. The Muybridge Award is presented at each congress to an individual for their “career achievements in biomechanics”. At the 1991 Congress, held in Perth in Western Australia, the recipient was Robert McNeill Alexander of the University of Leeds. His award lecture was written up as a paper and published in the Journal of Biomechanics (Alexander, R.M. Optimization of structure and movement of the legs of animals. Journal of Biomechanics. 26:1-6, 1993).

R. McNeill Alexander was born in 1934 in Lisburn in Northern Ireland. He obtained his MA and PhD from the University of Cambridge, and a DSc from the University of Wales. He started his career teaching at University College of North Wales, Bangor from 1958 until 1969, at which point he joined the University of Leeds as Professor of Zoology. In 1999 the University of Leeds awarded him emeritus status.

His research work has demonstrated great scope, and reflects an intense curiosity. He has asked and addressed questions as diverse as: “Why do we keep our legs so straight when we walk?”, “Would arms be more useful if they had more joints?”, “How does the size of the mouth affect the frequency spectrum of the human voice?”, and “How does gait change with body size across species?”. Many of his publications have been on running, jumping, and the importance of tendon elasticity. His pioneering work in this area helped highlight the importance of muscle-tendon interactions in movement performance and control. In addition to his numerous journal publications McNeill Alexander has been prolific in publishing books. These books include Functional Design in Fishes, Animal Mechanics, Size and Shape, The Chordates, Biomechanics, The Invertebrates, Locomotion of Animals, Optima for Animals, Elastic Mechanisms in Animal Movement, The Dynamics of Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Giants, Exploring Biomechanics, The Human Machine, Bones, Energy for Animal Life, and Principles of Animal Movement. These books include analyses of the biomechanics of a diverse array of animals from jellyfish to dinosaurs and elephants. McNeill Alexander has, therefore, made important contributions to understanding the general biomechanical and morphological principles that operate across the animal kingdom.

McNeill Alexander has also been the recipient of many other awards including honorary degrees from the University’s of Aberdeen and Wageningen. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a fellowship of the world's most eminent scientists that counts Isaac Newton as a former president, and which is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence having been established in 1660. He is also a member of the Academia Europaea, the European Academy of Humanities, Letters and Sciences, and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received medals from both the Zoological Society, and the Linnean Society. He has also been awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), an honor awarded by the British Queen on the advice of her government.

McNeill Alexander has served many scientific societies in administrative roles. He was the Secretary of the Zoological Society of London (1992-1999) which included supervising the management of London and Whipsnade Zoos. He was the President of the Society for Experimental Biology (1995-1997), President of the International Society of Vertebrate Morphologists (1997-2001), and the editor of the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B (1998-2004).

The profile of McNeill Alexander shows somebody who has contributed and made an enormous impact on biomechanics in many different domains; a worthy recipient of the Muybridge Award.

John Challis
ISB Archivist

[The ISB has an archive of its important materials, kept at Penn State University. If you have any materials you think should be in the archive, and you would consider donating them to the archive please contact John Challis (]

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