King's College London
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Faster & fairer - science & sport at King's College London

Hanson's discoveries

Hanson in the laboratoryHanson in the laboratoryHanson developed new staining techniques to make fibres visible to the naked eye under a relatively new instrument, the phase contrast microscope.

She observed the changes when chemical agents stimulated the muscle myofibrils to undergo contraction and relaxation.

Sliding filament hypothesisSliding filament hypothesisHanson also carried out electron microscope work during sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) between 1953 and 1954 that helped confirm her initial results.

These were published in a Nature article in 1954 alongside similar independent results from a competing team of Andrew Huxley (no relation of Hugh Huxley) and Ralph Niedergerke, based in Cambridge, and who employed an alternative technique, interference microscopy.

The research showed that individual protein filaments do not themselves undergo contraction but remain a constant length. Instead, the filaments slide between one another and so collectively shorten or lengthen the whole muscle.

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