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Director’s Blog: A Solver of “Mysteries” — Howard Nash, M.D., Ph.D.

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Howard Nash in lab

As a child, Howard Nash loved to listen to radio mysteries “in which there was a puzzle and a solution.” He ultimately found expression for that curiosity in a scientific career in the NIMH Intramural Research Program that spanned more than four decades. His intellectual rigor in solving mysteries of genetic recombination and consciousness, as well as his scientific citizenship, are legendary on the NIH campus and in the broader scientific community.

Nash, a senior investigator in the NIMH Laboratory of Molecular Biology, died June 12, 2011 after a battle with renal cancer.

His earlier studies pioneered ways to unravel mechanisms of DNA recombination and repair in bacteriophages. Later, he probed in fruit fly mutants how anesthesia – and consciousness – work at a molecular level. His work provides insight into how an individual’s genetic makeup can affect response to anesthesia .

Generations of young researchers whom he mentored learned from Howard that getting the right answers means first asking the right questions. His interests spanned many disciplines and he worked creatively to bridge them.

A careful listener and sage advisor, he served with distinction on numerous committees and helped promote scientific excellence at the NIH and beyond. Always modest about his own achievements and laudatory of others’ he lived up to his credo expressed at a symposium  held in his honor last Fall: "Entitlement, No! Gratitude, Yes!"

After graduating with both an M.D. and Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Chicago, Nash did a stint in pediatrics prior to beginning his NIMH career in 1964 as a Research Fellow.  He was a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. His kind wisdom will be missed by many friends and colleagues at research centers worldwide. 

Video below: Howard Nash, MD, PhD, Chief of the NIMH Laboratory of Molecular Biology, delivers closing remarks at the Nash Symposium (August 9, 2010).

Read transcript.