Vale Jan Anderson

Tuesday 1 September 2015
Jan Anderson. Image credit: AAS
Jan Anderson. Image credit: AAS

Vale

Born in New Zealand, Joan (Jan) Mary Anderson was an internationally acclaimed plant biologist renowned for her discoveries on the organization of the intricate membrane structures that carry out solar energy conversion in cells of green plants. Jan’s experiments and insights changed the way we think about the light reactions of photosynthesis. Her research career spanned some 55 years, mostly at the Division of Plant Industry CSIRO Canberra (1961-97) and then in the Research School of Biological Sciences at the ANU. Jan and her colleagues sustained the small CSIRO lab as an attractor for light reactions research with creativity and determination. Key researchers were Bertil Andersson from Lund, Sweden and Ta-Yan Leong, from the Department of Plant Biology, Stanford University. Stephanie McCaffery joined as Jan’s lab assistant in January 1984. In 1985, Fred Chow was recruited from the UK and replaced Ta-Yan who had moved to CSIRO head office. John Evans returned from Cambridge in 1986 to join the lab until he took up a QEII Fellowship at the ANU. This small but active lab continued to host self-funded colleagues from the USA, Germany, Scandinavia, UK, Holland, Canada, South Korea and China.

Following CSIRO’s decision to close basic research into photosynthesis in 1996, Jan and Fred joined the Photobioenergetics Group in RSBS led by Barry Osmond at ANU. Stephanie subsequently became research assistant to John Evans at ANU. Thus the research effort on the light reactions of photosynthesis shifted across Clunies Ross Street from CSIRO to ANU. As an Adjunct Professor, Jan broadened her role to include mentoring of students, postdocs and other early-career researchers, a role she was still actively contributing to and which has been tragically cut short.

Jan was one of the most internationally recognized Australian plant scientists.  She was elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 1987 and to the Royal Society of London in 1996. Jan received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Umeå in 1998, and in 2004 was Thomson ISI Australian Citation Laureate in Plant and Animal Science. In 2007 Jan received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Photosynthesis Research. Other awards include the Lemberg Medal by the Australian Biochemical Society (1983), the R. N. Robertson Award by the Australian Society of Plant Scientists (1998) and the Centenary Medal (2001). With great dedication, Jan served on various committees of the Australian Academy of Science, as a member of the International Society of Photosynthesis Research (1978-86), President of the Australian Society for Biophysics (1984-85) and President of the Australian Society of Plant Scientists (1992-94), and on editorial boards of prestigious scientific journals.

Jan was a passionate and creative female scientist who was well ahead of her time. She was an inspiration to young researchers, for whom her enthusiasm and curiosity were infectious. Her life and achievements will continue to be an inspiration towards which the rest of us aspire. On a personal level, she was kind-hearted towards, and keenly interested in, her friends, colleagues and their families.

A memorial celebration will be held from 2.30 pm, Tuesday 6 October, at The Margaret Whitlam Pavilion in the National Arboretum, for family, friends and colleagues to reflect on the life and work of Jan.  All are welcome.

 - Barry Osmond, Fred Chow and John Evans,  ANU

 

Vale

With great sadness, we acknowledge the passing of Professor Jan Anderson FAA FRS FDhc (Umeå) on 28 August 2015. Jan died peacefully in hospital after a short illness.

Jan Anderson graduated with a BSc and MSc (1st Hons.) at the University of New Zealand, and obtained her PhD (1956-59) under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Melvin Calvin at UC Berkeley.  Back in New Zealand, Jan broke her bond which required her to teach at Wellington Girls High School, in order to take up a job offer made to her four years earlier by John Falk, CSIRO Plant Industry, after he had given a seminar at Berkeley. Thus began her long and illustrious career with CSIRO Plant Industry (1961-1997). Jan came to ANU as Adjunct Professor at the RSBS/RSB in May 1996, a role she was still actively contributing to and which has been tragically cut short.

Jan’s scientific passion focused on (a) the composition, molecular organization and dynamic functions of photosynthetic membranes; (b) the regulation of these properties by the intensity and spectral quality of the light environment; (c) the damage to the photosynthetic apparatus by excess visible light and ultraviolet-B radiation; and (d) chlorophyll-protein complexes in higher plants and algae. Examples of ground-breaking work by her and her close collaborators include: the physical separation of the two photosystems, showing that they are separate entities with unique functions; demonstration of the extreme lateral heterogeneity in the distribution of the two photosystems in the photosynthetic membrane system; elucidation of the mechanism of acclimation of plants to the light environment; and the molecular mechanism of light-induced damage to the photosynthetic apparatus in vivo. 

Jan is one of the most internationally recognized Australian plant scientists. She was elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 1987 and to the Royal Society of London in 1996.  Jan received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Umeå in 1998, and in 2004 was Thomson ISI Australian Citation Laureate in Plant and Animal Science. In 2007 Jan received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Photosynthesis Research in recognition of her significant contributions to understanding photosynthetic mechanisms during her career. Other awards include the Marie Cabbot Fellowship at Harvard University (1973), Ann Horton Research Fellowship at Cambridge University (1974), the Lemberg Medal by the Australian Biochemical Society (1983), the R.N. Robertson Award by the Australian Society of Plant Scientists (1998) and the Centenary Medal (2001) that commemorates 100 years of federation in Australia.

With great dedication, Jan served on various committees of the Australian Academy of Science, as a member of the International Society of Photosynthesis Research (1978-86), President of the Australian Society for Biophysics (1984-85), President of the Australian Society of Plant Scientists (1992-94), and on editorial boards of prestigious scientific journals.

During her life as a researcher, she attracted numerous collaborators from overseas and within Australia to her lab. She also visited and worked in many overseas labs.  She was an inspiration to young researchers, for whom her enthusiasm and curiosity were infectious. Her devotion to science was a shining light for us when experiments did not work to expectations.  On a personal level, she was kind-hearted towards, and interested in, her friends, colleagues and their families.

We know that many colleagues and friends in Australia and overseas will join us in cherishing the memory of Jan’s achievements, love of the colours of life, generosity and her spirit of enquiry.

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Updated:  14 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  Director RSB/Page Contact:  Webmaster RSB