Oscar Touster (1921 – 2015)


Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University
Special Collections and University Archives

Oscar Touster, emeritus professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, passed away in February. He was 93.

Touster grew up in New York City and obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of the City of New York. He went on to receive a master’s from Oberlin College in 1942, but World War II delayed his doctoral work.

Before returning to his studies, Touster worked for the TNT-producing Atlas Powder Company, training as a lab supervisor. He met his wife Eva, who later became a poet and professor of English at Peabody College in Nashville, in a plant in Kentucky. He subsequently served as a research biochemist at Abbott Laboratories and worked on penicillin research alongside University of Illinois’ Herbert Carter. Touster ultimately would obtain a Ph.D in biochemistry and continue working with Carter after the war.

In 1947, Touster joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University and remained at the school for his entire career. Sixteen years after joining, he founded and served as the first chairman of the department of molecular biology at Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science and graduate school. Touster received the Thomas Jefferson Award and the Harvie Branscomb Award from Vanderbilt for his service to the university.

Touster also served as president of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a consortium of universities aimed at promoting and enhancing scientific research and education, from 1976 to 1988.

Preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Touster is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren.

Written by Erik Chaulk