In memoriam: Melvin Simpson
Melvin Simpson, founder of the biochemistry department at Stony Brook University and a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology since 1955, died January 31, 2022, the society learned recently. He was 100 years old.
Simpson was born July 15, 1921. He earned his Ph.D. in 1949 from the University of California at Berkeley for studies of protein biosynthesis in the laboratory of Harold Tarver and began his independent career as a professor at Yale before moving to Dartmouth where he was an American Cancer Society Professor.
In 1967, Simpson joined the faculty of Stony Brook University to start a section in biochemistry within the biology department. Two years later, biochemistry became a separate department with Simpson as the founding chair. He worked to recruit faculty as well as establish a positive inspiring environment. “He always had a smile on his face … he wanted everyone to be happy,” Norm Arnheim recalled in a Stony Brook memorial article.
Protein synthesis was the focus of Simpson’s early scientific career; he pioneered a method to track synthesis using radioactive methionine. Later, his interests expanded to include DNA, in particular mitochondrial DNA synthesis and metabolism. His studies included work on a mitochondrial topoisomerase and mitochondrial DNA evolution. He also studied the mechanism of nucleoside analog AZT, which was being tested as an AIDS antiviral at the time.
Simpson served in the US Navy during World War II. He maintained a love of boats and sailing his whole life, often sharing stories of places he visited. His wide-ranging interests beyond scientific research included archeology, a subject in which he took classes at Stony Brook while a professor.
Simpson’s colleagues and former students remember him as someone who treated everyone with respect and kindness; they write that he was a good mentor who asked critical questions while also supporting his mentees and colleagues with a helping hand both within and outside of the lab.
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