Dr. Sidney Schulman, a neurologist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, was an expert on the thalamus, which transmits sensory and motor impulses in the brain.
"It functions as a relay or switching station from the brain stem up to the cerebral cortex," said Dr. Nicholas Vick, chairman emeritus of neurology at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, who was a neurology resident at the U. of C. when he met Dr. Schulman in 1966.
Vick said Dr. Schulman's interest in the thalamus was sparked by a patient he encountered early in his career who had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a human brain condition related to mad cow disease in animals that is now known to be caused by an infectious abnormal protein called a prion.
"This patient had the disease in the thalamus only," Vick said. "It was quite interesting and rare, and Dr. Schulman did a thorough study of the case and wrote a paper about it."
Dr. Schulman, 90, died Friday, Jan. 31, in his Hyde Park home of complications from a fall, his son Daniel said. He had lived in the South Side neighborhood for more than 60 years.
His expertise in the thalamus, which also helps control short-term memory and some intellectual functions, led to what Vick called a strange story that captured popular attention in the 1960s.
The pathologist who had conducted the autopsy on famed physicist Albert Einstein sent Dr. Schulman slides of Einstein's thalamus for evaluation.
"(Dr. Schulman) knew the request was kind of silly," Vick said, "but he studied the slides carefully and determined that Einstein's thalamus was just like everyone else's, nothing different."
Dr. Schulman was born and grew up on the North Side of Chicago. He went to the University of Chicago for his bachelor's degree and medical degree, which he received in 1946.
"He was interested in science and medicine equally from an early age," said his son. Dr. Schulman often said that the novel "Arrowsmith" by Sinclair Lewis, which chronicles a Midwesterner's life in medicine and science, influenced his career path.
After an internship at the University of Chicago Medical Center, he spent two years in the Army as chief of pediatrics at Rodriguez General Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
He returned to the University of Chicago in 1949 for his neurology residency and fellowship, which he completed in 1951. He then became an instructor in neurology there. He became a full professor in 1965.
In 1975, following a sabbatical year at Harvard's Boston Children's Hospital, Dr. Schulman stepped away from patient care entirely to teach.
While he taught neuropathology to residents in one-on-one tutorials, he taught philosophy to University of Chicago undergraduates.
Vick marveled at the success Dr. Schulman had in the second half of his career, especially with a popular undergraduate course he taught twice a year, focusing on philosopher Immanuel Kant.
"Hard to imagine someone who could relate Kant's theory of knowledge from the 18th century to modern neurobiology," Vick said.
Dr. Schulman's other survivors include a daughter, Patricia; another son, Samuel; and eight grandchildren.
Dr. Schulman's wife, Mary, died in 2011.
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