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John Katsaras — Sharing Neutron Knowledge for Biomembrane Research

November 25, 2019

John Katsaras’ advances in technique, instrument and sample development for neutron and x-ray scattering have helped answer science questions about biological membranes. Image Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL

John Katsaras, a biophysicist specializing in neutron scattering and the study of biological membranes at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, had a rather unusual birthday party last year.

In place of cake and candles were research presentations and discussions about biomembranes. Attendees from around the world—Canada, Russia, the United States and Germany—many of them former post-docs or colleagues trained by Katsaras, converged in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, for a workshop in honor of his 60th birthday. From the meeting, a special journal issue commemorating Katsaras’ work was published.

During more than 35 years researching ways to refine x-ray and neutron scattering techniques to study biological membranes that are integral to a range of biological processes, Katsaras has achieved several “firsts”—the first successful neutron holography experiment, for example; and most recently, the first nanoscopic examination of a living cell membrane.

Being recognized for such accomplishments at the workshop was an honor, he said, but that’s not what makes him light up. Katsaras’ proudest role is giving young researchers the support and training they need to make it in a competitive research environment. This, he noted, is how you advance science.

“Your legacy lives through your students,” Katsaras said. “In my presentation I had a picture of my four children, and a picture of my other children, which are my students.”