John Wilson Moore ’41

John Wilson Moore, a biophysicist who made important contributions to understanding neurotoxins and was a pioneer in the field of computational neuroscience, died on Saturday, March 30. He was 98.

John was born on November 1, 1920 in Winston-Salem. He graduated from Davidson College in 1941 and received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Virginia in 1945. His graduate work was directed toward the war effort: assisting in the effort to enrich uranium by centrifuge, and building a radar-directed gun system for ships.

As a young scientist, John worked at the RCA Laboratories, the Medical College of Virginia, the Naval Medical Research Institute, and the National Institutes of Health, gaining unusual expertise that combined physics, feedback systems, electronics, and biology. He also began a lifelong tradition of summer research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA.

In 1961, John joined the Department of Physiology at Duke, where he made his greatest contributions to the field. He developed a new experimental method of measuring electrical current in neurons. Using this technique, he studied the actions of various neurotoxins with collaborators from around the world. Most notably, he and Toshio Narahashi discovered the method by which tetrodotoxin, the puffer fish venom, blocks nerve signals. John received the Cole Award from the Biophysical Society in 1981 for this and other work.

John also saw the potential for using computers to simulate the electrical signals in neurons. With help from student programmers, and using the recently developed Hodgkin-Huxley equations as a basis, he began in the late 1960s to run computer simulations in parallel with each lab experiment.

This groundbreaking method proved to be highly successful both in predicting the outcomes of experiments and in showing that the equations had wider applicability than previously known. With Michael Hines he developed the neuronal simulation software NEURON which remains one of the most popular tools for computational neuroscience instruction and research.

After his retirement from Duke in 1990, John focused his efforts on education. With his wife, Ann Stuart, a neurobiologist at UNC-Chapel Hill, he developed Neurons in Action, a digital textbook that includes interactive experiments using NEURON. It is now widely employed to teach neurophysiology.

Throughout his life, John struck up friendships wherever he went. He was beloved by family, colleagues, employees of the institutions where he worked, musicians he admired, and his many caregivers during his final year.

John is survived by his wife, Ann Stuart; their son, Jonathan Stuart-Moore (Megan Guiliano); three children from his first marriage, John Reid Moore (Beth), Marjorie Moore Kastrinsky (Howard), and Stephen Wilson Moore (Kathy); eight grandchildren, Jennifer, Josh, Matt, Kimberly, Elizabeth, Michelle, Steve, and Julian; and two great-grandchildren, Henley and Emily.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2019, at 2 PM, at the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Thomas B. and John W. Moore Scholarship Fund at Davidson College or to the The John W. Moore and Ann E. Stuart Endowed Fund at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Published in The News & Observer on Apr. 7, 2019