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IMP mourns the death of Gottfried Schatz


02 Oct 2015
Gottfried Schatz

We are deeply saddened that our friend, mentor and peer Gottfried “Jeff” Schatz has passed away. He died on October first in Basel, where he had spent the past forty years of his life.

Jeff was born in Strem (Burgenland) and studied Biochemistry in Graz. After his graduation in 1961, he joined the group of Hans Tuppy at the University of Vienna for his postdoctoral studies. It was during this time that he was involved in proving the existence of mitochondrial DNA, a discovery with far-reaching consequences for biology. From Vienna, his career took him to Cornell University (New York) and finally to the Biozentrum Basel where he served as professor and head of the institute.

Apart from being a brilliant scientist, Jeff was a passionate advocate for research in politics, society and education and a gifted “translator” of scientific topics to the public. He served as Secretary General of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and, after his retirement, presided over the Swiss Science and Technology Council where he played an influential role in Swiss research policy.

Jeff Schatz also had a special relationship with the IMP and the Vienna Biocenter. In the early days of the IMP, he headed the Search Committee for the founding director and it was largely due to his influence that Max Birnstiel accepted the challenge. Jeff also served in the Scientific Advisory Board of the newly founded institute from 1987 to 1998 and paved the way for what was to become the Vienna Biocenter. Many colleagues turned to him privately for advice and, whenever he was invited to give a talk, the lecture hall would be packed with people who knew what to expect: sharp-witted analyses and clear words combined with a deeply humane and passionate personality.

Next to being a charismatic speaker, Jeff was a talented musician and author. After a number of science-based books, his last book 'Postdoc' was a combination of crime-fiction and novel. In June 2015, he chose the IMP to present it to an Austrian audience. Already weakened by his illness, he made a point of coming to Vienna to read to us from his book, accompanied by his daughter Kamilla.

We are grateful to have known Jeff and are convinced that his spirit and attitude have transpired into the lives and works of many of us. Our condolences and deepest sympathy go to his family.