Diving into the whys and ways
Prof. David Jones' curiosity takes him to some interesting depths
by Andy Poon staff writer
Zoology Prof. David Jones has been fascinated by structures his entire
This love of studying how and why things are put together the way they are
engrosses Jones in both his professional work as a comparative physiologist and
in his unique hobby of examining cathedral architecture.
"I can give the best slide show on cathedral architecture that you have ever
seen," laughs Jones.
Jones is a bona fide fanatic when it comes to his hobby, having visited all the
cathedrals of note in Europe over the years.
"It may be because I spent a lot of time looking up at the architecture in
class instead of paying attention to the lectures," jokes Jones of his days in
secondary education at Bristol Cathedral School in England.
But it is his work in physiology that has garnered acclaim for the 59-year-old
Jones, who is also administrative director of the Zoology Animal Care Centre,
studies the regulation of blood flow and its impact on the metabolism of diving
animals such as ducks, sea birds, seals, turtles and whales.
He has published more than 170 scientific papers on the circulatory and
respiratory control of diving animals during his 31-year career at UBC.
He also explores the circulatory structure and function in creatures such as
Jones and fellow researchers made the first-ever recordings of heart rate from
a turtle diving at sea, revealing a heart rate 10 times higher in the creature
during short dives compared with long dives.
He was also involved in work appraising the diving abilities of elephant
seals, comparing the diving physiology and metabolism of elephant seals and
One of Jones' major research achievements has been to identify the sensory
receptors that cause the cardiovascular adjustments in forced and voluntary
dives by birds and mammals.
He was the first to identify and clearly define the role of nasal receptors,
chemoreceptors and blood pressure receptors in diving responses.
In 1984, Jones was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, chiefly for
his work on blood pressure receptors.
In 1991, Jones received the Fry Medal from the Canadian Society of
Zoologists for outstanding contribution to knowledge and understanding in
Earlier this year he received the Flavelle Medal, an award given by the Royal
Society of Canada for outstanding contributions to biological science during
the past 10 years. Fellow medal winners have included Nobel Prize-winner
Michael Smith and Sir Frederick Banting.
Jones' academic success started from humble beginnings in England. His
father and grandfather worked for the railway. His father toiled as a
signalman, often working long shifts away from home.
"There were times when my father would have to leave home at 2 a.m. to bicycle
30 miles so that he could be at work for 6 a.m.," recalls Jones. "He was
determined that my brother and I wouldn't go to work for the railway."
Although his brother did end up working for the railway, Jones became the first
in his family to attend university.
In 1959, he entered England's Southampton University and although he graduated
with first class honours in Zoology, young Jones fancied himself more of a
sportsman than an academic.
But there were early signs that he was more suited for the classroom than the
As a fairly successful 18-year-old fencer who had chalked up a number of
tournament wins, he faced and was handily defeated by the then Olympic fencing
champion. The kicker was that the Olympic champion was an expert in
epée-style fencing and had battled Jones in Jones' specialty -- the
"That's when I realized maybe I needed to find something besides sports in
which to make a living," he says.
It was at Southampton that Jones encountered comparative physiologist Graham
Shelton who became his doctorate supervisor.
Shelton became a huge influence on Jones during his study of amphibian diving
as his mentor and eventually, close friend.
Now a proud father of two and a grandfather of three, Jones still remembers how
Shelton chipped in with child care after Jones' wife fell ill after the birth
of the couple's first child.
Jones also credits Shelton with having directly or indirectly trained nearly 80
per cent of the comparative physiologists working in circulatory and
respiratory research in Canada today.
In 1969, after three years teaching at Bristol University, Jones uprooted his
young family, along with the family tabby, for the trans-atlantic move to
It was a former classmate at Southampton, David Randall, who recommended Jones
for a spot in UBC's Zoology Dept. Attracted in part by a bigger pay
cheque and a sense of adventure, Jones jumped at the chance to go to Canada.
"It was the best move that I have ever made," says Jones.
Over the years, he has taken the most delight in watching his graduate
students and senior undergraduate students carry on work from his lab and find
success in their own careers.
To date, Jones has trained 14 doctoral students, 12 master's degree students,
15 post doctoral fellows and countless other students who have ventured into
work at other universities and professions.
As well, he says the opportunity to work with colleagues such as Prof. Peter
Hochachka, Prof. Bill Milsom and Prof. Emeritus John Phillips, to name a few,
has been a tremendous experience for him.
"It is a great nucleus of colleagues in comparative physiology."
And while Jones says his fieldwork research days are rapidly coming to an end,
he plans to make trips next year to Mexico to study grey whales and to Costa
Rica to examine the metabolic rate of endangered leatherback turtles in their
natural ocean environment.
"It seems as my eyes get dimmer, the animals I study have gotten larger,"