I was very sad to discover online the death of Jeremy Knowles, renowned biochemist and former Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This is especially poignant for me for two reasons.
The first is academic. Throughout college, I was very interested in the study of chemical biology — the chemistry of living processes. Part of this was due to my fascination with Knowles’ work. Professor Knowles was famous for his studies which bridged our early understanding of chemistry with that of natural biological processes. His work in enzymology helped explain how TIM (triose phosphate isomerase, a critical enzyme in one of the chemical reactions which allow cells to turn food into energy) worked and developed a chemical understanding of how antibiotics like penicillin work and how clavulanic acid helps to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When you’re as big a science dork as I am, that is just endlessly fascinating.
The second reason is a more personal one. A few years ago, my roommate Eric and I had the opportunity to dine with Professor Knowles at the Harvard Faculty Club. There we were, face-to-face with a well-respected intellectual luminary and someone who had tangibly shaped the destiny of teaching and student life at the university. I walked away with a sense of wonder at the man — in one short dinner, he was able to imbue in each of us a sense of awe at his sheer brilliance, and all delivered with such charm that you would hardly know he had been the Dean of one of the world’s foremost academic institutions and appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England.
My heart goes out to Mr. Knowles’ family, as well as to the Harvard community he served so well.