News, notes and follow-ups

Category: Science

One year ago: Dr. Jean Dausset

Dausset The research of French Nobel laureate Dr. Jean Dausset, who died one year ago today at age 92, greatly contributed to making organ transplants possible.

Dausset discovered molecules on the surface of cells that allow an individual's immune system to distinguish between its own tissues and foreign tissues, which are vigorously attacked by disease-fighting antibodies.

With his Nobel Prize money and a substantial grant from French television, he established the Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain, or CEPH, which went on to make a map of DNA markers that play a crucial role in deciphering the human genome.

Dausset, who was drafted into the French army during World War II, developed his passion for hematology while performing transfusions on the battlefields of North Africa during the Allies' Tunisian campaign. After Paris' liberation in 1944, he was put in charge of blood collection for the city's transfusion center.

For more information, read The Times obituary of Dausset that was published on June 27, 2009.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Dr. Jean Dausset after receiving an award in Spain.

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

One year ago: Rajeev Motwani

Motwani One year ago, on June 5, 2009, the world lost a father of modern technology. Rajeev Motwani, a computer scientist and Stanford University professor, developed new ways to search enormous databases and was a mentor to the founders of Google. He died by drowning in the pool at his Atherton, Calif., home. Friends said he did not know how to swim and suspected that he slipped and fell into the pool.

After learning of Motwani's death, Google co-founder Sergey Brin wrote on his blog:

"Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it."

Motwani, who grew up in New Delhi, was a specialist in developing ways to filter and organize the endless sea of information on the Internet. His work in the field of algorithms -- the sets of instructions that computers follow to solve a specific problem -- was considered groundbreaking.

Click here to read the obituary Valerie J. Nelson wrote for The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Rajeev Motwani. Credit: Stanford University

Writer Jane Brody examines her grief over husband's death

Jane Brody, who writes about health and medical issues for the New York Times, lost her husband, lyricist Richard Engquist, to lung cancer on March 18.

Only days before, Brody had described in a column how she was preparing for his death, saying "You never know when your time will be up, and so it is best to prepare for the end sooner rather than later."

This week Brody wrote poignantly about her fresh experiences of grief.

"As my husband of 43 years approached the end of his life and the anguish within me welled like a dam ready to burst, I realized something both simplistic and profound — losing a spouse is nothing like losing a parent. ...

When we marry 'till death do us part,' do we really expect to be parted by death? I know several women who lost their husbands after relatively brief marriages, forcing them to raise young children on their own. I thought I could imagine their pain and anger at the unfairness of it all. But I also knew they could not afford to wallow in grief, if for no other reason than that their children needed them to be emotionally intact.

But after the children have moved away and have children of their own, a spouse’s death leaves an emptiness that is hard to fill. There’s no one in the house with whom to share the events of the day, discuss the broken pipes and rotten politics, relish the antics and achievements of the grandchildren."

Click here to read the rest of the column, and feel free to post your comments below.

-- Claire Noland

Ed Roberts, developer of MITS Altair 8800 computer, dies at 68


Ed Roberts, an engineer who helped develop a precursor to the modern personal computer, died Thursday in Georgia after several months of battling pneumonia, his son David said. He was 68.

Roberts was best known for developing and marketing the MITS Altair 8800 in the 1970s.

The build-it-yourself kit was operated by switches and had no display screen initially, but it inspired Bill Gates and his childhood friend Paul Allen to found Microsoft in 1975 after they saw an article about the Altair in Popular Mechanics. Gates and Allen founded Microsoft in Albuquerque to be based near MITS' headquarters.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Ed Roberts poses with the Altair 8800 computer in 1997. Credit: Associated Press / Atlanta Journal Constitution, William Berry


Nobel Prize winner Marshall Nirenberg dead at 82

Marshall Nirenberg, a scientist whose work untangling fundamental genetic processes earned him a Nobel Prize, has died. He was 82.

Nirenberg died of cancer Jan. 15 in New York City, his sister Joan Geiger said.

In 1961, Nirenberg and a colleague conducted an experiment that showed how the genetic information contained in DNA is translated into the protein molecules in cells.

His work earned him a share of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1968.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Marshall Nirenberg in 1968, the year he won the Nobel Prize. Credit: Associated Press

Caltech community knew Qian Xuesen as Tsien Hsue-shen


Our Sunday story about Qian Xuesen, a rocket scientist who studied under Professor Theodore von Karman at Caltech in the 1930s and then returned to the university in 1949 as an instructor and researcher, has brought an outpouring of response from those who knew him as Tsien Hsue-shen. The Chinese born aeronautical engineer, who died Oct. 31 in Beijing, was deported in 1955 during a time of anti-communist fervor in the United States and five years after he was accused of belonging to a subversive organization. He went on to become known as the father of China's space and missile programs.

Qian was named a distinguished alumni of Caltech in 1979. A colleague of his, Frank E. Marble, reviewed his memories of the man he knew as Tsien Hsue-shen in 2002 in a Caltech publication, as well as in an oral history the university conducted in the 1990s.

We'd like to hear from our readers who worked with Qian Xuesen/Tsien Hsue-shen or knew him during his time in Southern California.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Mourners gather in Beijing on Monday to pay their respects to Qian Xuesen. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

They may be dead, but these celebrities are nonetheless making money

It's that time of year, when Forbes magazine releases its annual list of top-earning dead celebrities. You might think Michael Jackson would top the list, since his estate has opened the floodgates with music and a film, "This Is It," to satisfy consumer demand for all things MJ in the wake of his unexpected death in June.

Laurent But no, holding on to the No.1 spot is French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Laurent died of brain cancer at age 71 in June 2008. Boosted by the auction of much of his estate at Christie's in February, more than $350 million has been raked in during the last 12 months, Forbes reported.

Coming in No. 2 is the team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, the duo responsible for such Broadway and movie musicals as "South Pacific," "The King and I," "The Sound of Music," "Carousel" and "Oklahoma!" Rodgers died in 1979 and Hammerstein in 1960, but they still combined to earn $235 million in the last year.

Then Jackson shows up at No. 3 with $90 million.

The rest of the list, according to Forbes:

4. Elvis Presley, $55 million.

5. J.R.R. Tolkien, $50 million.

6. Charles Schulz, $35 million.

7. John Lennon, $15 million.

8. Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), $15 million.

9. Albert Einstein, $10 million.

10. Michael Crichton, $9 million.

The full Forbes coverage is here.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent at his London boutique in 1969. Credit: Associated Press

Ignacio Ponseti and grateful parents

Ponseti The Des Moines Register published letters from parents whose children were patients of Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, who created a nonsurgical method of treating clubfoot in infants. Ponseti died Oct. 18 at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic. He was 95.

"To say that Dr. Ponseti was gentle would be an understatement," wrote Jennifer Diaz. "While other doctors had previously manipulated [her daughter's] foot with casts to the echoes of a screaming baby, he gently massaged her foot, bringing it to position while quietly talking to her. She never so much as whimpered with him. He was incredible."

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Dr. Ignacio Ponseti in 1943.  Credit: University of Iowa.

James C. Marsters Memorial


A memorial will be held for James C. Marsters, a Pasadena orthodontist who co-developed a teletypewriter that opened up phone use for the deaf, at 1 p.m. Oct. 25 at St. Clement's Episcopal Church, 2837 Claremont Blvd., Berkeley.

With a physicist and an engineer-businessman, Marsters helped create a modem in 1964 that linked a teletypewriter to traditional phone lines and converted audio tones into typed messages.  The accomplishment brought profound independence and dramatic social change to the deaf community, said Harry G. Lang, a professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y., who chronicled the feat in his 2000 book, "A Phone of Our Own."

Marsters, the last survivor of the trio of deaf innovators, died July 28 in Oakland after a short illness. He was 85.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: James C. Marsters, in his Pasadena home, reads a printout from a machine that operated using technology he helped create.



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