A global salute to Irving Epstein, a ‘founding father of chaos’

IrvFest 2015 celebrates Epstein's contributions to science as a researcher and as a mentor

Photos/Heratch Ekmekjian

Irving Epstein

Scientists from around the world convened at Brandeis on July 17 to honor Irving R. Epstein, the Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, as a scientist and mentor.

IrvFest 2015 (“Celebrating a founding father of chaos!”) highlighted Epstein’s achievements and his research on oscillating chemical reactions, spatial pattern formation and neurobiology. Many presenters said Epstein’s work provided the blueprint for their own research. Attendees shared stories about working with Epstein in his lab, as a collaborator or as a mentee.

“Irv’s studies of oscillatory reactions always seemed to me to be the model for how to apply science to the problems of dissipation,” said George Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University and one of the keynote presenters. “We shared frustration in the difficulty of connecting these counterintuitive processes to broader problems, and, while we haven’t solved the problem of making these connections, Irv’s efforts started us along the path that’s beginning to lead to something.”

Epstein has held several positions at Brandeis the past 44 years. Currently interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, he also has served as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Kenneth Kustin, professor emeritus of chemistry, praised Epstein for helping establish the sciences at Brandeis, as well as a new area of research, oscillating reactions. Kustin’s lecture, “Irving Epstein and the Trees of Life and Science: Retrospective and Reminiscence,” highlighted Brandeis’ founding and Epstein’s role as a leading faculty member. Kustin also focused on Epstein as a person, showing photos of Epstein with his wife and sons, while sharing anecdotes about the construction of Brandeis’ first science center.

Epstein was lauded for making undergraduate success in the sciences more accessible to diverse students. After being named a Howard Hughes Professor in 2006, which came with a $1 million grant, he founded the Science Posse, making Brandeis the first university in the nation to launch such a program. 

“Irv’s contribution, in addition to his many scholarly works, is his commitment to engaging people who might not have otherwise had an opportunity to be in the science field,” said Brandeis Interim President Lisa Lynch in her remarks. “All of you have been touched by Irv in your own careers and I want to tell you that there is a whole generation of undergraduates who come into the science field because of his dedication. Irv inspires all of us to be better than we ever thought we could be.”

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