FASEB mourns Howard K. Schachman, 1918-2016

By | August 9, 2016
Howard K. Schachman. Schachman received a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1948. He served as president of FASEB in 1988.

Howard K. Schachman. Schachman received a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1948. He served as president of FASEB in 1988.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) mourns the loss of Howard K. Schachman, an outstanding scientist and influential spokesman for biomedical research. A brilliant scholar, inspirational leader, and generous mentor, his legacy of accomplishments in science and public policy had a profound and lasting impact.

Schachman was born in Philadelphia, received a B.S. in chemical engineering from M.I.T., and earned a Ph.D. from Princeton. While a student at Princeton, he served as a driver for Albert Einstein, and his wife Ethel was one of Einstein’s secretaries.

Most of his professional career was spent at the University of California, Berkeley, where his pioneering studies in protein biochemistry marked him as one of the most distinguished scientists of his generation. He is particularly well known for his contributions to the development of the analytical ultracentrifuge as a tool for studying the structure, stability, and interactions of proteins, nucleic acids, and viruses. Serving as a mentor for hundreds of graduate students and postdocs, he instilled in his students a passion for science and a strong sense of moral integrity.

He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). In 1987 he was elected president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), and he became president of FASEB in 1988.

As president of FASEB, he ushered in a new era of policy activism. He was an influential voice at the 1989 Williamsburg Retreat that reorganized the Federation and established its principal mission as public policy.

In the policy arena, he was an outspoken critic of politically targeted research funding and excessive charges for indirect costs. A staunch advocate for integrity in research, he was also a vocal opponent of overzealous regulation of science. Insistent that poor scientific judgment was not equivalent to fraud, he once commented that “some scientists are ambitious, opportunistic, self-serving, and arrogant. But that doesn’t make them crooks.” The policy challenge, he added, “was to separate the crooks from the jerks.”

In the early 1990s, Schachman made a major impact on university policy when he successfully challenged the University of California mandatory retirement rule. Arguing that performance and competence, not age, should be the criteria for making employment decisions, he remained an active and productive member of the UC faculty for another two decades.

In recognition of Howard Schachman’s many contributions to science policy, he was awarded the FASEB Public Service Award in 1994. In 2001, ASBMB instituted the Howard Schachman Public Service Award to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to public service in support of biomedical science.

Schachman accented his accomplishments in science and public policy with a renowned sense of humor. “He was always in high demand as a speaker and raconteur, and he enlivened many a meeting and scientific gathering with his wit and droll remarks. He had an amazing ability to reduce complex problems to simple terms and thus was constantly in demand as an ombudsman at the local and national levels,” said former FASEB President Ralph Bradshaw, PhD.  “It is the end of an era. Howard will be missed by any and all who knew him,” Bradshaw said.