Tributes to Rosbash and Hall

In the wake of news that the two biologists won a Nobel Prize, colleagues and former students offered praise and reminiscences.

Jeff HallCourtesy of the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University

Jeff Hall at Brandeis in 1994.

In the wake of the announcement that they’d won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, tributes poured in for Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and professor of biology, and Jeffrey C. Hall, professor emeritus of biology.

Irving Epstein, Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry

Michael has always been a force to be reckoned with. I’ve always enjoyed our scientific conversations and envied his ability to apply his insights into circadian rhythms to real-world problems. We’ve talked and interacted a lot about other matters, too — Brandeis, the state of the world, even tennis. In all of these, his approach is the same — careful, often unconventional analysis, thoughtfully and forcefully presented, often with ironic humor. This is a wonderful recognition of his remarkable accomplishments.

Leslie Claire Griffith, Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Neuroscience

Jeff has actually been a larger-than-life presence in the Drosophilia behavior field. His work on circadian rhythms and courtship is a template for understanding how single genes can actually shape behavior. The scientific field that he seeded is now comprised of hundreds of labs, probably on four continents. For Jeff, there was always a certain romance to the idea that there was a clock, some physical entity that could actually keep our physiological processes tuned to the rhythms of the sun. ... His partnership with Michael really made them an unbeatable team.

Eve Marder ’69, Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience

One of the holy grails of neuroscience is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that underlie a complex and important set of behaviors. The work on circadian rhythms that is honored by this year’s Nobel Prize is a singular achievement as it establishes the molecular mechanisms of the circadian clock, which then give rise to circadian rhythms. In my mind, this work is the most impressive example of going from molecules to behavior that now exists. ... In addition to an outstanding intellect, Michael has a wonderful sense of humor and has been a remarkable source of energy for his colleagues at Brandeis and around the world.

James Haber, Abraham and Etta Goodman Professor of Biology and Director, Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center

I came to Brandeis with no real training in genetics but was handed a book and told to teach it. When Jeff arrived two years after me, I finally had a tutor. We co-taught "advanced genetics" which he knew all about, and I didn’t. I became Jeff’s most attentive student. If it were not for his enthusiasm and detailed knowledge of historical genetics — studies in flies, maize and mice — I probably would never have ended up studying the repair of broken chromosomes and genome stability, whose foundations were introduced to me by Jeff’s rigorous teaching.

Paul Hardin, PhD’87, former Rosbash graduate student, now John W. Lyons Jr. ’59 Chair and Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University

It was a fantastic and exciting time in my life, working with Michael. He is a brilliant scientist. Michael is very quick, insightful and a dynamic leader. He constantly pushed to get the best out of everyone in his lab and was always on top of the experiments being done. Michael and Jeff made a great pair. Both had their eccentricities and common obsessions, namely any pro team in Boston and circadian rhythms. Michael has been very supportive of my work since I left the lab, and even though I continue to study molecular clock mechanisms using Drosophila, our work has largely complemented each other’s.

Vipin Suri, PhD’01, former Rosbash graduate student, currently vice president and head of discovery, Obsidian Therapeutics, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Both Michael and Jeff are brilliant minds, remarkable for their insatiable curiosity, depth of their scientific efforts, the pace of thought and execution, and a “leave no stone unturned” mentality. We took pride in working long hours (the Rosbash lab never slept!) because we knew that the science was groundbreaking and also because Michael never stopped working or thinking.

Phyllis Speiser ’75, currently professor of pediatrics at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine, in Queens, New York, and chief of pediatric endocrinology at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Hempstead, New York

When I worked in Dr. Hall’s lab as an undergraduate, I studied the neurogenetics of Drosophila courtship behavior, my senior honors thesis. Dr. Hall, among others, sparked my desire to continue to medical school and pursue further scientific investigation. Brandeis’ environment was intimate and focused on undergraduates, and this certainly helped me.

Patrick Emery, former postdoctoral fellow in Rosbash lab, currently professor of neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

When working with Michael Rosbash, I was impressed by his burning and contagious passion for science, his fearlessness and his creativity. I also greatly appreciated his unique sense of humor. It is striking to see how successful the many scientists he trained have been. This says it all about Michael’s qualities as a mentor and the support he gives to his trainees while in the lab and after they leave.   

Jeff Hall impressed me with his deep, comprehensive and critical thinking for his and other’s research as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of Drosophila genetics and behavior. No stone would be left unturned with Jeff. 

Josh Huang, former Rosbash graduate student, currently Charlies and Marie Robertson Professor of Neuroscience at Cold Spring Harbar Laboratory

Michael was the best PhD advisor I could have imagined. He has this strong curiosity and passion for discovery. He directed me to work on a fascinating problem. He demands the best effort, has the highest standards and always looks critically at data and results. These were crucial years for my growth as a young scientist. He also gave me great freedom to explore my own ideas. And he has an infectious sense of humor. I really just had a blast in those four and a half years.

Mary Ann Osley, former postdoctoral fellow in Rosbash lab, currently professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine

I was a postdoctoral fellow in the early 1980s when Michael's research was centered on developmental biology in frogs and RNA splicing in yeast. My word-one descriptor of Michael is "passionate," which he applied to science, life and Boston sports teams. We all worked and played hard together and did our best to live up to Michael's high expectations for novel scientific discovery and experimental rigor.

Pierre Legrain, former postdoctoral fellow in Rosbash lab, currently executive vice president of development, Institut Pasteur in Paris

I could talk for hours about my fantastic experience, both from a personal and professional point of view. Michael was a terrific mentor. He became a friend. He not only teaches you how to translate your scientific ideas into experiments, he shows you why and how to never give up.

What's the balance between nature and nurture? This is a challenging scientific question for biologists, especially geneticists. Michael has spent his professional life addressing it. It is also an issue for any human being who cares about others. Michael is one of them.

Torben Heick Jensen, former postdoctoral fellow in the Rosbash lab, current professor, Department Of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University in Denmark

Michael is a demanding, but also caring, mentor. While he has no time for unfocussed scientific chitchat, he will go out of his way to offer his help to solve real world problems of both a professional and private nature. He treats people as his equals and spends as much time talking to the new graduate student as he does talking to the experienced postdoc. Both are expected to be thrilled with what they are doing and their challenges at hand are taken equally seriously.

Gaiti Hasan, former postdoctoral fellow in Rosbash lab, currently senior professor, National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, Bengaluru, India

My first project in the Rosbash lab led nowhere, but enthused by the amazing scientific energy that existed all around me, I decided to try my hand at an independent project. Michael was incredibly supportive and generously allowed me the freedom to dump the project I had begun and start another project unrelated to the direct interest of his lab. This generosity extended all through. I still remember when I wrote up the manuscript for this work and discussed it with Michael. He said that if I wished I could go ahead and publish it as a single author. I could not agree because the work I began in the Rosbash lab was made possible because of the quality time I spent there. 

Alain Jacquier, former Rosbash postdoc, currently head of structure, Génétique des Interactions Moléculaire at the Institut Pasteur

I had such a great time in his lab. As a postdoc, I found that I had close to complete freedom for my research project. When I arrived, Michael presented me to the lab and went through the different projects, which were at the time equally distributed between RNA maturation in yeast and the study of circadian rhythms in Drosophila. 

Discussing your science with Michael was a real experience because he would have, on average, three ideas per minute. It was then up to you, really, to sort things out and choose among the few experiments that you thought most feasible and most promising. It would often be a challenge as you would be like a kid in a candy shop but only getting the right to choose only one or two.


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