Vale Sally Stowe

Monday 22 February 2016

That point was controversial; her microscopy settled the matter. It was a brilliant cameo – microscopy at its most effective

Sally Stowe imaging butterfly wing in the EMU, Bldg 46, c 2007. Photo credit: Jeff Wilson, ANU
Sally Stowe imaging a butterfly wing in the EMU, Bldg 46, c 2007. Photo credit: Jeff Wilson, ANU

14 July 1951 -  11 January 2016

Sally Jane Stowe was raised in New Zealand, obtaining her undergraduate degree at the University of Auckland. She then came to the Department of Neurobiology (Research School of Biological Sciences, ANU) in Canberra where she did her PhD on the structure and function of the visual system of crabs. After receiving her doctorate, Sally collaborated with her husband, Associate Professor David Blest, on the extraordinarily rapid turnover of the membranes of the light sensitive cells within the eyes of invertebrates. During this collaboration, Sally produced some of her finest scientific work.

In 1984 Sally became Facility Coordinator of the ANU Electron Microscopy Unit (ANUEMU), in Building 46, managing it for 24 years until her retirement in 2008. This was a very demanding role, in which Sally had to balance the often competing demands of fields as diverse as geology, botany and neurophysiology. She worked tirelessly to expand the capabilities of the Unit, obtaining much new equipment for it.

Sally’s modest demeanour and her enduring helpfulness -  she frequently interrupted her own work to help others, even out of hours – made the Unit highly productive, a congenial place which pursued microscopy to its limits. Sally had an intimate technical knowledge of the instruments under her care, and was the first-response troubleshooter whenever anything went wrong. She also created a course on digital microscopic imaging, introducing generations of novice research students to the field. During this period she befriended people – colleagues, students - from throughout the campus, and the affection and respect in which she was held were reflected in the large turnout for her retirement farewell.

In retirement, Sally continued her research with collaborators old and new. Sally was the epitome of a scientist, interested in everything and keeping up with the work of local and overseas friends and collaborators. One of the great frustrations of her long, final illness was her inability to use a microscope. Ongoing projects at the time of her death included the neuropathology of dementia,  with Professor Jonathan Stone (University of Sydney and a former Director of RSBS), and the structural basis of iridescent butterfly wing colouration with Professor Doekele Stavenga (University of Groningen).

According to Professor Stone, “Sally illuminated our study with extraordinary images of senile plaques and blood vessels; she made the sections so thin that resolution seemed effortless; she searched the literature until she could elicit intrinsic fluorescence in key structures; she found the precise fields to illustrate our point. That point was controversial; her microscopy settled the matter. It was a brilliant cameo – microscopy at its most effective”.

This vale was prepared with the assistance of Eldon Ball, Ted Maddess, Jonathan Stone, Jochen Zeil, Willi Ribi, Darren Freeman, and Sharyn Wragg

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