Franklin Paine Mall was born into a farming family in Belle Plaine, Iowa, on 28 September 1862. While he attended a local academy, an influential teacher fueled Mall's interest in science. From 1880-1883, he studied medicine at the University of Michigan, attaining his MD degree in 1883. William J. Mayo, who later became a famous surgeon and co-founder of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, was a classmate of Mall's. Throughout his studies at Michigan, he was influenced by Corydon L. Ford, a professor of anatomy, Victor C. Vaughn, a biochemist and bacteriologist, and Henry Sewall, a physiologist.
Andrew Zachary Fire is a professor at Stanford University and Nobel Laureate. Fire worked at the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Embryology in Baltimore, Maryland, with colleague Craig Mello, where they discovered that RNA molecules could be used to turn off or knock out the expression of genes. Fire and Mello called the process RNA interference (RNAi), and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2006 for their discovery.
Physician and pathologist Elizabeth Maplesden Ramsey was a member of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW) for thirty-nine years. The affiliation began in 1934, when Ramsey discovered what was assumed to be the youngest-known embryo at the time, and donated it to CIW's massive embryo collection. After studying embryos, Ramsey focused her research on placental circulation in primates.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington's (CIW) Embryology Department was opened in 1914 and remains one of six departments in the CIW. The department quickly became, and remains, world renowned for its many embryonic development discoveries. In 1913 Franklin P. Mall, Professor of Anatomy at Johns Hopkins Medical School, applied for a Carnegie grant to support his research with human embryos. Mall had a collection of over 800 human embryo specimens and was at the point of wanting to do more than just collect. He wanted to study normal and abnormal growth and so began categorizing embryos in a scientific fashion. It soon became apparent that Mall would need funding and a research venue. In 1914 Mall not only received a $15,000 grant from Carnegie, but was also made director of the new Department of Embryology at the CIW. With money, new facilities, a fireproof vault for embryo specimens, and Carnegie's name above the institution's door, Mall brought his extensive embryo collection with him and began obtaining hundreds more human embryos to study. Over the next fifty years, the Department of Embryology would collect and permanently store more than 10,000 embryos.
As one of the first to work at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Embryology, Warren Harmon Lewis made a number of contributions to the field of embryology. In addition to his experimental discoveries on muscle development and the eye, Lewis also published and revised numerous works of scientific literature, including papers in the Carnegie Contributions to Embryology and five editions of Gray's Anatomy.
Osborne O. Heard was a noted Carnegie embryological model maker for the Department of Embryology at The Carnegie Institute of Washington (CIW), Baltimore, Maryland. Heard was born in Frederick, Maryland, on 21 November 1890. His father died while Heard and his three brothers were quite young. Heard attended night school at the Maryland Institute of Art and Design where he studied sculpting and patternmaking. While working as a patternmaker for the Detrick and Harvey Machine Company, Heard made models of tools using a variety of materials such as wood, plastic, and plaster of Paris. These models were then handed over to a mold maker to form a casting. Heard's work came to the attention of Franklin Paine Mall, the first director of the CIW's Embryology Department. Mall persuaded Heard to leave the machine company and to continue his craft at the Carnegie Institute. Hired in 1913, Heard remained an employee of the department for forty-two years, making hundreds of wax and plaster embryo models and contributing to several improvements in reconstruction technology.
James David Ebert studied the developmental processes of chicks and of viruses in the US during the twentieth century. He also helped build and grow many research institutions, such as the Department of Embryology in the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Baltimore, Maryland and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. When few biologists studied the biochemistry of embryos, Ebert built programs and courses around the foci of biochemistry and genetics, especially with regards to embryology. He eventually directed the MBL's Embryology Course, and later, the MBL itself.
As the third director of the Carnegie Institute of Washington s Department of Embryology, George Washington Corner made a number of contributions to the life sciences as well as to administration. Corner was born on 12 December 1889 in Baltimore, Maryland, near the newly established Johns Hopkins University. Although Corner was not exposed to science much in school at a young age, he developed an early appreciation for science through conversations with his father about geography and by looking through the family's National Geographic magazines.
Historically the exact age of human embryo specimens has long perplexed embryologists. With the menstrual history of the mother often unknown or not exact, and the premenstrual and postmenstrual phases varying considerably among women, age sometimes came down to a best guess based on the weight and size of the embryo. Wilhelm His was one of the first to write comparative descriptions of human embryos in the late 1800s. Soon afterward, Franklin P. Mall, the first director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's (CIW) Department of Embryology, expanded upon His' work. Mall's first efforts were to place embryos into stages based on menstrual ages and body length. This method ran into problems however when it became apparent that obtaining menstrual ages was often impossible or simply too inaccurate even if the information could be obtained from the women who carried the embryos. Mall decided instead to look for patterns among embryos to come up with some type of staging system whereby embryo age could be more accurately determined.