November 2009

Seymour Kaufman (1924–2009)

Seymour imbued his fellows with the same high technical and behavioral standards. He was not free with praise but was similarly stingy with opprobrium. One of my proudest moments as a postdoctoral fellow came after he suggested I repeat some experiments in a slightly different way. I must have visibly sagged, because he clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Look, I know you’re working like a dog.” It was a compliment to cherish. Seymour made his fellows realize he was genuinely interested in their work, fair in his evaluations and generous with his time. He claimed to enjoy being interrupted by fellows’ comments and questions because they provided some variety for the intensity of his focus. He was a superb teacher, an outstanding and creative investigator and a highly moral human being.

Ephraim Levin
Retired captain
U.S. Public Health Service


My memories of Seymour Kaufman date to 1965, when I came to the Bethesda campus of the NIMH as a visiting scientist from Sydney, Australia. Much of my research prior to this appointment was concerned with the metabolism of organic acids and their CoA derivatives in plants. I was, therefore, quite familiar with Seymour’s pioneering research with animals in this field, and he became one of my early acquaintances. At this time, Seymour and I were both in Giulio Cantoni’s laboratory of general and comparative biochemistry; I had joined the section on alkaloid biosynthesis, and Seymour was chief of the section on cellular regulatory mechanisms. Giulio’s laboratory sponsored a marvelous journal club for discussing interesting research papers; members included Harvey Mudd, David Neville, Howard Nash, Lou Sokoloff and Jack Durell. Seymour’s presentations provided important lessons in the importance of a rational, rigorous and critical approach to research. Some less academic memories include the times when Seymour and I spent many enjoyable weekends playing doubles tennis with Lou Sokoloff and Jack Durell. In 1987, the section on alkaloid biosynthesis was discontinued, and I was fortunate to be invited by Seymour to join his laboratory of neurochemistry. My collaboration with Seymour on the mechanism of nitric oxide synthesis represented a wonderful finale during the decade before my retirement. I cherish fond memories of a good friend, colleague and mentor.

John Giovanelli
Guest researcher


Seymour and I were laboratory neighbors in the newly constructed clinical center at NIH in 1954. We quickly discovered that we both had switched from a high school art program to one in science, he in Brooklyn and I in Detroit. He already had established himself as an up-and-coming biochemist, and I was just getting started, and so, in addition to occasional discussions on diverse topics of mutual interest ranging from the arts to food and wine, he also served as a helpful informal adviser in matters of biochemical research. We both participated in a weekly journal club established by Giulio Cantoni, in which we presented either our own recent research results or reviewed an interesting journal article. I followed his pursuit of phenylketonuria and the nature of phenylalanine hydroxylation reaction like a serial detective story.

Seymour loved good food and wine. Seymour Kety, Seymour Kaufman, Giulio Cantoni, Louis Sokoloff, myself and our wives shared many memorable meals in Bethesda and wherever in the world our travels coincided.

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