Nathan Wetherill Shock, a renowned gerontologist, was born in Lafayette, Indiana on December 25, 1906, the son of Blanche Vandelia Stults, a grade school teacher, and Joseph Henry Shock, a teacher of mathematics, high school principal, and later professor of mathematics at Purdue University. Nathan Shock grew up in Lafayette, received a degree in chemical engineering from Purdue in 1926, and the master's degree in organic chemistry the following year. In 1928 Shock married Margaret B. Truman, a Lafayette resident. In 1930 Shock received a Ph.D. in physiological psychology at the University of Chicago and stayed on as a research associate in the pediatrics department while teaching physiology for two years.
In 1932 Shock went to the University of California, Berkeley, as research associate in the Institute of Child Welfare and assistant professor in physiology, staying until 1941. It was at Berkeley that he learned the value of performing longitudinal studies of humans to assess changes over time in a group of 100 boys and girls who were followed from age 10 to 18 years. Measurement of physiologic changes in infants at the University of Chicago became measurement of changes in adolescents at the University of California, and at the Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore became measurement of physiologic change over time in groups of elderly subjects.
The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) at Bethesda, Maryland began its interest in aging studies in 1940, and in October of 1941 Shock was called to head the new gerontology unit, with a research facility within the Baltimore City Hospitals. In the late 1940s NIH organized its research programs as institutes with category labels, and the Section on Aging became first a part of the National Heart Institute, was transferred to the National Institute of Child Health and Development and in 1975 the gerontology program became part of the National Institute on Aging; Dr. Shock was named Scientific Director of the new institute and continued his research studies until his retirement in 1977. Then, as Scientist Emeritus, he continued his studies and writings until his death on November 12, 1989 at the age of 82.
Nathan Shock, a man of great organizational abilities, was instrumental in the development and growth of major gerontological societies nationally and internationally. He served as president of the Gerontological Society of America (1960-1961), president of the International Association of Gerontology (1969 to 1972), and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gerontology.
His most notable contribution to the emerging discipline of gerontology was in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The author of several books, he also contributed more than 200 articles to the scientific literature on gerontology. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors in his chosen field. Many characterized Nathan Shock as the father of American gerontology.
Dr. Shock had a keen interest in the history of gerontology and sought to preserve the important documents of the field in his papers.