Nathan Zuntz - Ready for the March experiment.

Ergospirometry 1.0

AG Gunga at the grave of Nathan Zuntz

Nathan Zuntz

A pioneer in the field of humans in extreme environments

Nathan Zuntz (19847-1920) was a Professor of animal physiology at the University of Agriculture in Berlin from 1881-1919. It was during this time-period that he carried out multiple experiments examining the conditions of human beings under several environmental circumstances. Zuntz was responsible for leading the way in developing examination methods in the field of human physiology in extreme environments. Some well known inventions of his are the treadmill, which he developed in Berlin. In addition, he found new methods for measuring human physiological parameters during field experiments, such as a respiration device which measured metabolism in real time, as well a portable gas clock. Zuntz is not only renowned for his scientific research concerning human metabolism, but also for his research carried out in the research station of Mount Rosa in Switzerland. It was here that his infamous studies in altitude physiology took place. His book “High altitude climate and mountaineering and their effect on humans” published in 1906, is a classic work concerning the fields of high altitude physiology and medicine.  These investigations in high altitudes were performed also during hot air ballon trips (1902) and later in airplane (1910) voyages. His publication, “The physiology and hygiene involving aviation” belongs to the first of its kind in the field of human physiology in extreme environments. Zunzt has placed himself as a pioneer of altitude physiology and as the founder of modern aerospace medicine.

In 2009, Prof. H.-C Gunga published a comprehensive book over the impressive life and work of this scientist, which in 2010 was awarded the life science book award from the international academy of astronautic.


The history of the alpine exercise physiology was mainly influenced by the Italian Angelo Mosso (1846 – 1910), the German Nathan Zuntz (1847 – 1920) and the Austrian Arnold Durig (1872 – 1961). After the completion of the international research station Capanna Regina Margherita on the top of the Monte Rosa (14.000 ft) in 1893 Mosso, Zuntz and Durig worked there , sometimes together, in the field of high altitude research . In view of the variety of questions and the considerable methodological prob- lems they first studied the effects of lowered P0 2 (hypoxia) on the human body in pneumatic chambers. These pneumatic chambers were used for clinical purpose. The methodological experiences in the laboratories led to the development of a light-weight constructed and robust apparatus which measured heart rate and respiration frequencies and extent of metabolism. For field studies Zuntz invented a special respiration apparatus to measure the O2 consumption and CO2 emission, the “transportable Gasuhr”. The studies on exercise and high altitude physiology were not only conducted in the Alps. In the following years Zuntz, Durig and v.Schroetter undertook expeditions to the Canary islands (Pico de Teide) and in balloons up to an altitude of 27.000 ft. Due to their contributions Mosso, Zuntz and Durig must be regarded as the pioneers in high altitude and exercise physiology. Furthermore their integrative pattern of thinking is characteristic for the “working philosophy” of an applied physiologist at the turn of the century and still today.