Werner Loewenstein

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Werner Loewenstein’s family donated to the Grass Foundation in memory of support from the University of Chile

Werner was born Feb. 14, 1926 in Spangenberg, Germany, the only child of Jewish parents. The family had to flee Nazi Germany in 1939 by traveling to the Netherlands from where they had booked a passage on a freighter to Chile, where they had relatives. Because the crossing into the Netherlands was not easy, they missed the boat. (That boat was torpedoed and sank!) They managed to get another booking via Venezuela.

Werner had great talent for languages and did not miss a grade in the Spanish-language high school in Santiago and qualified for the University of Chile. After a B.S. (1945) in physics and a short-lived flirtation with dental medicine, he pursued a Ph.D. in physiology, encouraged by an excellent and demanding mentor, Francisco Hoffmann, founder of the University’s Institute of Physiology. Hoffmann furthered Werner’s interest in physics, physical chemistry and physiological research. After obtaining his Ph.D. in physiology (1950), Werner left Chile in 1953 for a postdoctoral fellowship in Stephen Kuffler’s lab at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, which launched his distinguished academic career in the U.S.

Werner was always grateful for the excellent foundation in the natural sciences he received at the University of Chile in Santiago and in particular credited Francisco Hoffmann for furthering his interest in physiology and enthusiasm for electrophysiological research. His family believes that Werner would be delighted to know that the Grass Foundation attracts qualified graduates from the University of Chile for the Grass Fellowship established in his memory -Birgit Rose Loewenstein.

Werner is missed by all who knew him. His family wrote that the world is poorer now without his bright intellect, his undiminished scientific curiosity, his gentle humor, goodness of heart, and personal warmth. His favorite book was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ says the White Queen to Alice.”

Werner was a world-renowned biophysicist. In 1954 he joined the University of California in Los Angeles as a resident zoologist. In 1957 Dr. Loewenstein was a professor of physiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. He moved to Florida in 1971 to take a position as professor and chair of physiology and biophysics at the University of Miami School of Medicine. In 1994 Dr. Loewenstein and his wife, Dr. Birgit Rose Loewenstein, established the Laboratory of Cell Communication at the MBL, devoted to the study of intercellular communication. Their research focused on the cell-to-cell channel, a membrane channel built into the junctions between cells.

Dr. Loewenstein was an author of Touchstone of Life: Molecular InformationCell Communication, and the Foundations of Life as well as Physics in Mind: A Quantum View of the BrainPhysics in Mind was chosen by Physics World Magazine as the 2013 Best Book of Physics.

Werner is terribly missed by his wife Birgit Rose Loewenstein, daughter Claudia Loewenstein, son Stewart Loewenstein, and his grandchildren. See Werner’s obituary in The Journal of Membrane Biology.