Those We Lost in 2017

The scientific community bid farewell to a number of luminaries this year. 

By | December 27, 2017

Eugene Garfield (1925-2017)

JASON VARNEY PHOTOGRAPHYFounder of The Scientist and the Institute for Scientific Information, Eugene Garfield passed away this February at the age of 91. He is credited with launching the field of citation analysis, having devised the journal impact factor, the commonly used metric that quantifies the reach of a specific journal based on citations of its publications. However, he himself cautioned against the practice of relying on impact factors as a way to rank publications, researchers, or their institutions.

He founded the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) in 1955, where he launched the Citation Index, a system to chart connections between pieces of scientific literature that later became the basis of the Web of Science. “Before [ISI’s] Web of Science, scientists and researchers had very inefficient methods for finding and tracing other scientific documents. The citation database was not just an intellectual achievement, but also an engineering achievement,” C. Sean Burns, an assistant professor of information science at the University of Kentucky whose PhD research was supported partially by a fellowship bearing Garfield’s name, told The Scientist in February. “His work enabled information retrieval to scale up. . . . This created, basically, the entire information science field as we know it today.”

In 1986, Garfield founded The Scientist, as a news magazine for researchers. This creation was a “labor of love,” said The Scientist’s former editor-in-chief, Mary Beth Aberlin. “More than 30 years later, it is an honor to carry on his legacy.”

Thomas Starzl (1926-2017)

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGHRenowned physician Thomas Starzl, who led the team of surgeons who performed the first successful human liver transplant in 1963, died at the age of 90 this year. He is known for revolutionary work in organ transplantation and the use of immunosuppressant drugs to prevent organ rejection.

After that first liver transplant, it took four years until Starzl conducted a transplant in which the patient survived at least a year. He launched the country’s first liver transplant program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he developed various approaches to prevent organ rejection. “We regard him as the father of transplantation,” Abhinav Humar, clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, told the Associated Press. “His legacy in transplantation is hard to put into words—it’s really immense.”

Fotis Kafatos (1940-2017)

IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON / CHERYL APSEEFotis Kafatos, a Greek scientist well-known for his work on the malaria-spreading mosquito Anopheles gambiae, passed away in Crete, where he was born. He was 77. Kafatos succeeded in sequencing the genome of A. gambiae, a project that led to the identification of gene families involved in the mosquito’s innate immunity.

Kafatos was the founding president of the European Research Council, a public funding body that allocates money to science and technology in the E.U. He told The Scientist in 2007, at the time of the organization’s founding, that “the most important added value of a world-class European organization like the ERC will be its role as a model for best practice and as a catalyst for change at national levels in Europe.”

Donald Coffey (1932-2017)

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR CANCER RESEARCHDonald Coffey, a renowned prostate cancer researcher, passed away this November at the age of 85. He began his career at John Hopkins washing glassware for graduate students, according to an obituary published by the university, before working his way up to a position as the director of a urology research laboratory.

He is well known for his discovery of the nuclear protein matrix—the protein network that physically supports the cell nucleus—along with Ronald Berezney, now a professor at the University of Buffalo. Their paper describing the finding has since been cited more than 1,100 times, according to Google Scholar. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at John Hopkins, says in the obituary that Coffey had a profound influence on his field of research: “His impact on cancer and the people who will ultimately solve the cancer problem is immeasurable.”

Isabella Karle (1921-2017)

WIKIMEDIA, JOHN F. WILLIAMSIsabella Karle, who helped pioneer the widely used method of X-ray crystallography to visualize the structure of molecules, died this October. She was 95.

Her husband, Jerome Karle, had received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Herbert Hauptman in 1985 for developing the technique, but Isabella Karle helped demonstrate how it could be used. “After I found some structures that no one could have dreamt of solving before, it started to get a lot of attention,” she told The New York Times in 2013.

Karle was inspired early on by renowned physicist Marie Curie, and she accomplished bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees before she turned 23. Her husband told The Los Angeles Times upon receiving the Nobel Prize that his wife also deserved it. “I can’t think of anyone who is more qualified than my wife.”

Nicolaas Bloembergen (1920-2017)

WIKIMEDIA, DUTCH NATIONAL ARCHIVESNicolaas Bloembergen, a Dutch-American physicist recognized for developing the driving principles in laser technology that eventually led to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), passed away after suffering a heart attack this September. He was 97. He had worked in the lab of Edward Purcell at Harvard University, a physicist who later received a Nobel Prize for his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance.

Bloembergen explored various new applications of laser technologies, including surgery and optical-fiber communication, as well as MRI. “We certainly had no inkling at all that our work would eventually lead to MRI,” he said in a 2013 interview posted on yscouts.com. “You never know of these implications. It’s always fascinated me.”

Samuel Allen Counter (1944-2017)

JON CHASE, HARVARD STAFF PHOTOGRAPHERDistinguished Harvard University neurophysiologist Samuel Allen Counter passed away from cancer in July. He was 73. His diverse interests in ethnography and neurophysiology led him to travel to many regions around the globe for his research. For instance, he studied lead poisoning in South America, and in Greenland, determined that a mass hearing loss suffered by Inuit people had been caused by exposures to gun shots during seal hunts.

Counter later founded and directed the Harvard Foundation of Intercultural and Race Relations. “Harvard has lost a great champion of inclusion and belonging in Dr. Allen Counter,” Harvard President Drew Faust told the Harvard Gazette this year. “[He] challenged all of us to imagine and strive for a more welcoming University and a more peaceful world.”

John Robertson (1943-2017)

CHRISTINA MURREYRenowned bioethicist John Robertson from the University of Texas School of Law died earlier this year at age 74. His research had focused on reproductive technologies. He is author of 1994’s Children of Choice: Freedom and the New Reproductive Technologies, in which he examined the ethics around issues such as genetic screening, the “morning after” pill, and in vitro fertilization. He was also chair of the ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

“John was one of the earliest law professors to consider medicine from an ethical and policy perspective,” Rebecca Dresser, a bioethicist and law professor at Washington University, said in a 2010 press release. “He showed the rest of us how it could be done, and done well.”

Philip Coppens (1930-2017)

NANCY J. PARISIThe University of Buffalo’s Philip Coppens, who developed the technique of photocrystallography, passed away in June. He was 86.

Originally from the Netherlands, where he earned his doctorate, Coppens went on to the Weizmann Institute where he worked with chemist Gerhard Schmidt. There he was encouraged to use X-ray crystallography not just for the determination of chemical structures, but for solving chemical problems.

“Philip was a giant in his field and pioneered the technique of time-resolved X-ray crystallography, which has become a major area in X-ray science,” David Watson, professor and chair of the chemistry department at the University at Buffalo, said in a press release. “He was renowned for promoting the discipline, organizing international meetings, and mentoring younger colleagues in his field.”

Isabelle Rapin (1927-2017)

ALBERT EINSTEIN COLLEGE OF MEDICINEIsabelle Rapin, a child neurologist known for her work on autism spectrum disorders, passed away this May to pneumonia. She was 89. She grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she attended medical school, and moved to Manhattan in 1953, where she worked in several hospitals, eventually landing up at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

Rapin did much work on autism in children and on its biological foundation, and helped popularize the notion that autism is a spectrum of disorders. “Calling her one of the founding mothers of autism is very appropriate,” Thomas Frazier II, a clinical psychologist and chief science officer of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group for people with autism, told The New York Times after her death. “With the gravity she carried, she moved us into a modern understanding of autism.”

Henri Termeer (1946-2017)

FLICKR, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUMDistinguished biotech entrepreneur Henri Termeer passed away this spring at age 71. He is known for introducing a patient-centric business model to biotech company Genzyme, where he served as CEO until it was bought by Sanofi in 2011. This helped create hundreds of medications for rare diseases, such as Gaucher disease and Fabry disease, according to the Boston Globe.

“His vision was to cure rare diseases, and he always had time to meet with the people dependent on our treatments,” David Meeker, president of Sanofi Genzyme, told the Boston Globe. “He had the ability to forge such an intense relationship with everyone he met, and he made everyone in the industry feel like he cared about them as an individual.”

Julius Youngner (1920-2017)

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGHJulius Youngner, whose work helped develop the polio vaccine, died this April at age 96. After working on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, he had studied along with Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh to focus on polio. He developed a method to inactivate the virus, as well as a cell culture technique that scaled up production of the vaccine, which was later approved in 1950.

Youngner also contributed to the development of other vaccines, for instance, one against equine influenza. He had told American Medical News that playing a part in the polio vaccine was “exhilarating—and that doesn’t even describe it, because I’ve been on a high ever since.”

Mark Wainberg (1945-2017)

YOUTUBE, JEWISH GENERAL HOSPITALMark Wainberg, a pioneering virologist from McGill University, passed away this April unexpectedly in a drowning incident, according to The Globe and Mail. He was 71. In 1989, he and his colleagues had helped identify the antiviral properties of lamivudine, a drug used today to treat HIV infection and hepatitis B.

Wainberg led the AIDS Center at McGill University and served as president of the International AIDS Society from 1998 to 2000. He advocated for HIV patients throughout his career. “Canada and the world have lost a great scientist and a great man,” Julio Montaner of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS told The Globe and Mail.

Amar Klar (1947-2017)

IMAGE COURTESY OF CSHL ARCHIVESNational of Cancer Institute Geneticist Amar Klar passed away this March at age 69. He was born in India, where he studied biochemistry and microbiology at Punjab Agricultural University. He joined the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1978 where he focused on the molecular biology and genetics of yeast reproduction, and later joined the National Cancer Institute. He was a prominent figure in epigenetics, focusing on gene silencing and other heritable epigenetic alterations involving the genetics of handedness and whorls in people’s hair.

 

Geoffrey Raisman (1939-2017)

WIKIMEDIA, MRC NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCHDistinguished neuroscientist Geoffrey Raisman, a leader in the field of spinal cord injury, passed away at age 77.  He initially worked at Oxford University studying how neurons form new connections with one another and how support cells repair nerve damage in the central nervous system.

In 1974, Raisman became one of the youngest heads of the Division of Neurobiology at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London, where he created a Spinal Repair Unit. In 2014, his techniques were used to help a paralyzed Bulgarian man regain the ability to walk.

“It is immensely gratifying to see that years of research have now led to the development of a safe technique for transplanting cells into the spinal cord,” Raisman had said at the time, according to The Jewish Chronicle. “I believe we have now opened the door to a treatment of spinal cord injury that will get patients out of wheelchairs.”

Peter Mansfield (1933-2017)

COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAMNobel laureate Peter Mansfield, whose research paved the way for the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology—passed away this Febuary at age 83.

Mansfield was a 15-year-old-high school drop-out, but then began to take evening classes to get into university. He eventually attended Queen Mary University London where he became fascinated by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

As a lecturer at Nottingham University, Mansfield began to work on improving NMR imaging, and built a first MRI prototype in which he volunteered to be the first person to be scanned. “He was the guinea pig,” Richard Bowtell, a former student of Mansfield and a current professor at Nottingham, told The New York Times. “There was the worry it would knock him dead.” Mansfield was knighted in 1993 for his scientific contributions, and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with the American chemist Paul Lauterbur for their work on MRI technology.  

Hans Rosling (1948-2017)

FLICKR, NEIL FANTOMHans Rosling, a doctor, statistician, and data visualizer at the Karolinska Institute, passed away in February, a year after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. He was 68. He was a sought-after speaker on global health and statistics, and had given several TED talks. He appeared on the BBC’s Joy of Stats, where he showed how wealth and life expectancy has changed across the world over the last 200 years.

During his work on tracking the Ebola epidemic in 2015, Rosling visited Liberia himself to gather data on patients’ contacts in order to look for additional infections. “We have to make a meticulously perfect system work in a country where such a system cannot exist,” Rosling told Science at the time. “This is the biggest intellectual challenge I have participated in in my life.”

Peter Nowell (1928-2016)

Peter Nowell (left) and colleague David Hungerford (right)ALICE HUNGERFORDPeter Nowell, a tumor biologist who co-discovered the Philadelphia chromosome, died of Alzheimer’s disease complications last December. He is well known for his work on leukemic cells with David Hungerford of the Fox Chase Cancer Center while at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. There, Nowell identified an unusually small variant of chromosome 22 in chronic myelogenous leukemia patients. Called the Philadelphia chromosome, it was the first clear evidence that genetic mutations could cause cancer. The discovery paved the way for the development of imatinib, a cancer drug that is widely used currently for treating chronic myelogenous leukemia and other forms of cancer. Nowell’s son told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “He lived long enough to see it developed into treatment to allow individuals to lead longer lives.”

Ben Barres (1954-2017)

STANFORD PRESS OFFICEStanford University neuroscientist Ben Barres, who elevated the profile of non-neuronal brain cells called glia, died at age 63 this year. Among his accomplishments, Barres developed a cell-purification technique called panning to isolate glia and established the cells' importance in the formation of neuronal synapses.

As a transgender and gay man, Barres advocated for minorities and the LGBT community.

In his last year of life, Barres continued to make important contributions to the field of glia research, notably, finding that rogue astrocytes could cause the death of other brain cells.

Update (December 28): Ben Barres was added to this list after his death on December 27.   

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