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Rubner, Max

energy production metabolism heat

[rub ner] (1854–1932) German physiologist: made important investigations of animal metabolism and energy balance.

Rubner was professor of physiology at Marburg and later at Berlin. Before 1800 had shown by experiments using a guinea-pig in a calorimeter that its heat production was the same as that given by burning a quantity of carbon equal to that in the CO2 it expired, and so he concluded that metabolism is equivalent to burning at body temperature. Rubner developed such experiments on mammalian heat production, and proposed his surface law: that the rate of metabolism is proportional to the superficial area of the mammal and not to its weight. He also found that recently fed animals lost heat more quickly than fasting animals, pointing to a cellular regulatory system. He confirmed the results obtained by Lavoisier and others that metabolic energy production is equal to ordinary combustion despite the temperature difference; this implies that the law of conservation of energy applies to animate as well as inanimate objects. Rubner compared the energy available from various foods and showed that carbohydrates, fats and proteins were broken down equally readily, and that a mammal’s energy usage for growth purposes is a constant fraction of its total energy output.

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