Department History

The Department of Pharmacology: 1915 - 1957

         B. Bernard Turner, PhD
           Chair, 1915 - 1932

The Department of Pharmacology of the Indiana University School of Medicine was founded in 1915 under the chairmanship of Bernard Benjamin (B.B.)Turner, PhD. Dr. Turner was educated in England and Germany. In 1896 he completed his PhD in Physical Chemistry with Professor Walther Hermann Nernst (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1920). Turner worked in the Johns Hopkins laboratory of John Jacob Abel, the “father of American Pharmacology,” with whom he published “On the Removal of Diffusible Substances from the Blood by Means of Dialysis”  (Transactions of the Association of the American Physicians of 1913, pages 1-4.) The “vivi-diffusion” described therein proved to be the foundation of renal dialysis. In July of 1914, Dr. Turner was co-author of a seminal article in plasma exchange research, “Plasma Removal With Return of Corpuscles (plasmaphaeresis)” (Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Vol. V, No. 6, pages 625-641.)

Dr. Rolla N. Harger was chairman of the Indiana University School of Medicine's Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology from 1933 to 1956 and worked as Professor of Biochemistry and Toxicology from 1922 to 1960. In 1937, Dr. Harger conducted the first-ever "short course" on chemical tests for intoxication, and in 1938 he was one of five members on a subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted a model act to legalize the use of evidence from chemical tests for intoxication. The act was incorporated into drunken driving laws nationwide. In 1939, a year after Harger's "Drunk-o-meter" invention became reality, his home state of Indiana became the first state in America to establish a presumptive alcohol impairment level of 0.15%. The enactment of "presumptive levels" shifted the focus in DUI investigations and trials from simply using officer observations to more "scientific" chemical testing.

Rolla N. Harger, PhD with "Drunk-o-meter"
       Chair, 1933 - 1956

Each year, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences selects one of its members to receive the prestigious Rolla N. Harger Award for outstanding contributions to the field of Forensic Toxicology.


The Department of Pharmacology: 1958 - 1984

Van Nuys Medical Science Building in 1958

In 1958, Biochemistry and Pharmacology were divided. This was coincident with the opening of the Van Nuys Medical Science Building and the movement of the full complement of basic science courses to the Indianapolis campus.


The first Chair of the fully separate Department of Pharmacology was James Elwin Ashmore.  Ashmore was recruited to IU from Harvard in 1958, and he served as Chair of the Department until 1976. During the 1968-69 academic year, Ashmore took a leave-of-absence to establish the Department of Pharmacology at the new University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.

James E. Ashmore, PhD
Chair, 1958 - 1976


Henry R. Besch, Jr., PhD
Chair, 1977 - 2002

Henry R. Besch, Jr., PhD was appointed Chair of the Department of Pharmacology in 1977. Besch had received his doctorate in Pharmacology at Ohio State University in 1967. Dr. Besch served as Chair of the Department until 2002.

The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology: 1984 - Present

On March 3, 1984, the department was renamed “Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology”
in recognition of the major contributions of the Division of Toxicology.   

The Van Nuys Medical Science Building underwent significant renovation projects in 1981, 1991, and 1998 to ensure state-of-the-art educational and research facilities for medical students and graduate students in the basic sciences.

Michael R. Vasko, PhD
Chair, 2002 - Present

In July of 2002, Michael R. Vasko, Ph.D, Paul Stark Professor of Pharmacology, was named Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and he continues in that position today. Dr. Vasko completed his PhD in Pharmacology in 1976 at the University of Michigan Rackham School of Graduate Studies in Ann Arbor.