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“He Didn’t Look for an Untrodden Path, but Rather for the Next Step”

It was the influence of János Szentágothai that turned my interest from internal medicine to anatomy, said former disciple and member of HAS Béla Halász. According to the scientist, through his fascinating personality, Szentágothai was able to inject a deep love of research into his disciples. The anatomist evoked the character of the late professor on the occasion of the Szentágothai Memorial Year.

The owner of the office located in the Institute of Anatomy, Histology and Development at Semmelweis University could not possibly deny that he is a Szentágothai-disciple. There is a photo hanging on the wall dedicated to him by the late brain researcher and former president of HAS born one hundred years ago, and the shelves are full of the famous books of the great professor. "I have just received the 85th edition of The Atlas of Human Anatomy, which he co-authored with Ferenc Kiss", Béla Halász says taking the massive book from the shelf. The anatomist's career was fundamentally shaped by the fact that he had regularly visited János Szentágothai's lectures as a medical student in Pécs. "He was a brilliant lecturer. He had the ability to talk about painting, sports or even gastronomy in a very exciting way while staying on topic." 

    Béla Halász had originally been interested in internal medicine, but under the spell of Szentágothai's lectures, he slowly turned towards anatomy. He committed himself to the latter for good when he decided to refuse a clinical position and chose instead to stay in the institute headed by Szentágothai. "I have never regretted my decision", he said justifying his step taken more than half a century ago. He not only expanded his knowledge in Pécs, but also had the chance to refine his skills in research methodology. "János Szentágothai never looked for the untrodden path, but rather he was constantly thinking of the next step. His aim was to verify his thoroughly thought-out hypotheses", said Béla Halász about the approach of his master, adding that the professor injected love and joy for purposeful and intense scientific research intohis disciples.  

    According to the anatomist celebrating his 85th birthday this year, this approach has been replicating itself among the generations of Hungarian brain researchers ever since. "We should be proud of our achievements and international recognitions", the scientist said referring to the Brain Prize awarded last year for the first time to two Szentágothai-disciples Tamás Freund and Péter Somogyi, and György Buzsáki who started his career in the Institute of Physiology at the Medical University of Pécs as a student and later as a colleague of the renowned researcher of the hippocampus, Endre Grastyán. Béla Halász believes that well-trained Hungarian brain researchers, just like at Szentágothai's time, have a kind of originality in both theory building and methodological implementation. "If one however wants to remain in the international forefront of scientific research, having modern equipment is essential", Béla Halász said, pointing out that the highly acknowledged Institute of Experimental Medicine of HAS and the world-renowned HAS Biological Research Centre in Szeged both possess the necessary infrastructure needed for achieving further scientific successes.