HomeFacultyIn MemoriamHoward Maer Lenhoff, Ph.D.

Howard Maer Lenhoff, Ph.D.

UCI_Bio_Faculty_in Memoriam_Howard Lenhoff

January 27, 1929 – July 12, 2011

Dr. Howard Maer Lenhoff, Ph.D., 82, of 304 Dogwood Drive Oxford, Miss., died Tuesday, July 12, 2011, at his home. Dr. Lenhoff was a scientist recognized as a world authority in his field of biological research. He was also a humanitarian activist who achieved several goals many thought were beyond reach.

Dr. Lenhoff was born in North Adams, MA on Jan. 27, 1929, son of Charles and Goldie Rubin Lenhoff. After graduating from Drury High, he attended Coe College in Iowa and earned a Ph.D. in enzymology at the McCollum-Pratt Institute of the John Hopkins University. His first postdoctoral work was a fellow of the National Cancer Institute at the laboratory of W. Farnsworth Loomis in Greenwich, CT.

Serving next in the U.S. Air Force, he was appointed Acting Chief, Biochemistry Section of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Medical Center. Remaining in Washington, D.C. for a time, he was a Fellow of the Carnegie Institution at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in its Biophysics Section, also serving as visiting lecturer in the department of zoology of Howard University and as research consultant at George Washington University.

Dr. Lenhoff’s next roles took him to Miami where he was Investigator in the Laboratories of Biochemistry at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Subsequently he founded and directed the Laboratory for Quantitative Biology at the University of Miami before being recruited by Dr. Grover Stephens to the young campus at the University of California Irvine as Associate Dean of Biological Sciences.

Many colleagues during those years will remember him for the number of special programs in which he participated. His research experiences took him to the Woods Hole Marine Biology Station, to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, the Department of Pharmacology at Washington University in St. Louis, and the Friday Harbor Laboratory in Washington State.

He served as Director of the NSF research training program in Experimental Coelenterate Biology of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, as Instructor in the 2nd International Conference of Mediterranean Atlantic Marine Biology Organization, at the Hebrew University Marine Laboratory in Eilat, Israel, and then also in Eilat as the Director of the Graduate Course in Experimental Marine Biology. He was Visiting Scientist at the Station Zoologique of the University of Paris at Villefranche-sur-mer.

With his research interests increasingly diverse, he was to serve at various times as Fellow of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel; at the Israel Institute of Technology (“Technion”); at Ben Gurion University and Hebrew University; and as a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Lenhoff’s primary experimental animal was the fresh-water hydra, and with his “organismic” approach, he studied its biochemistry, physiology, cell biology, development, toxicology, ecology, genetics, receptors, and the history of science related to this coelenterate. The history of science community remembers him for his studies on Abraham Trembley, the eighteenth century Swiss researcher often called “the father of experimental zoology.” These studies led to Dr. Lenhoff being named an Honorary Member of the Societe de Physique et d’Histoire naturelle de Geneve of the Swiss National Academy of Sciences.

He also worked in the fields of immobilized enzymes and enzyme mediated immunoassay, in bio-analytical and protein chemistry. As his colleague Dr. That Ngo has stated, “He has made significant contributions in many fields of scientific research ranging from biochemistry, biotechnology, marine biology, pharmacology, to cognitive research on Williams syndrome.”

At UC Irvine, in addition to his work as a researcher and professor, he held a variety of administrative posts, including Chair of the Academic Senate and Dean of the Graduate Division. His publications include a myriad of articles and a dozen books. Dr. Lenhoff’s work as a humanitarian was marked by the same qualities as his science and his scholarship. It was innovative and creative and diverse. One of the great joys of his life was his participation as a leader in the successful rescue of the Jews of Ethiopia. His activities on behalf of developmentally disabled musicians proved to be instrumental in the establishment in Lenox, MA of a unique summer camp for musical young people who had Williams’ syndrome and later, the Berkshire Hills Music Academy now celebrating its 10th year in South Hadley, MA. Most recently his concern for the education of the young people of the Mississippi Delta developed into the “Guardian Angel Initiative” to enable children of four impoverished counties to attend school with dignity and pride. At the University of Mississippi during the past ten years, Dr. Lenhoff served as Adjunct Professor of Biology.

Dr. Lenhoff is survived by his wife, Sylvia, daughter Gloria, and son Bernard.


August, 30 2016

Christopher Torri

I remember meeting Dr. Lenhoff a few times as a child, when my mother was a secretary for Dr. Lenhoff and Dr. Schneiderman, at the Pathobiology labs off of Jamboree Boulevard. This would have been in the early to mid 70’s. I remember he was a very kind man, although usually very busy. I also remember my mother telling me about the Falasha jewelry made by Ethiopian Jews, and the work Dr. Lenhoff did with those people who were starving and persecuted. God bless you, sir.

May, 19 2012

R. L. Pardy

While I can identify specific mentoring issues involving Howie’s advice (sometimes mild coercion) early in my career, Howie’s direct input and mentoring diminished with time though we kept in touch. However, his influence never, ever ebbed. To this day I can identify attitudes and sensitivities with regard to how I interact with students, with respect to how I approach the content of introductory biology, and with respect to how I evaluate student accomplishment, which are traceable directly to Howie’s influence. As I mentioned earlier, several thousand Nebraska students have been touched by Howie through my large class instruction. The Lenhoff influence is clearly operative in the way I mentored my undergraduate research students(I am so very thankful that many years ago that I took time to share these thoughts with Howie in writing.) I first met Howard Lenhoff on the dock at Kaneohe on the very first day of the coelenterate institute in 1967. Our arrival in Hawaii from Tucson, Arizona for the institute was completely serendipitous. U of A required all Ph.D. students to spend a summer at a marine station—any marine station. One day, as I was walking down the hall of the zoology department, I spotted a notice regarding the coelenterate institute in Hawaii. My committee, after some deliberation, approved this program as fulfilling the summer marine station requirement. I filled out the information, sent in my application, and to my surprise, was accepted. Later, when the packet containing the course information and details regarding the students arrived, my anxiety began to build. The zoology Ph.D. program at U of A in 1967 was marginal at best—long on course work and exams, very short on research training. Hence I had an inferiority complex when it came to associating with research-savy students–especially when considering studying in the company of graduate students from USC, UCLA, and Stanford. On the dock, Howie immediately engaged the students with a particularly warm and disarming greeting and welcome. I confessed my concerns and fears to him directly and in about five minutes he had me calmed down and convinced that the institute was not about competition, or grades, and that the growth and accomplishments of individual students was the paramount concern and focus of the institute (outside of coelenterates, of course). Out of this brief encounter grew a friendship and mentoring relationship that endured for over forty years. With great patience and insight, Howard taught me the basics of scientific research and the complimentary communication skills which are the hallmark of the professional scientist. My first ever publication was based entirely on research done under Howie’s tutelage and was to form the model for most of my experimental research throughout my career. During the institute Howie grilled us on developing drafts (“—–good writing is rewriting—“) and taught us the basics of a scientific presentation (wrapping paper and felt markers were our “slides”). But science was not the exclusive focus of Howie’s leadership in Hawaii—-his concern for the cultural enrichment of students is best exemplified by the special presentation Howie arranged with Kaupena Wong, an authority on ancient Hawaiian music, where we were treated to an evening of Hawaiian chants accompanied by traditional instruments. In setting this up, Howie clearly demonstrated that far from being a monolithic scientist, he had other interests, interests that he used effectively for the education and enlightenment of students. It should be mentioned here that through Howie’s efforts, Kaupena was awarded an honorary degree by Coe College—Howie and Kaupena’s alma mater. Howie and Sylvia generously invited us to use their beach house in Waimanolo for a week while the Lenhoff family visited the big island. What a luxury to live on the beach in Hawaii. Later that summer we found out that Ann was pregnant with our son, Matt. Could it have been the week on the beach compliments of the Lenhoff’s? Who can say? It was at Irvine that I experienced the range of Howies remarkable drive and talents. His development of the first MAT program in science teaching for high school teachers demonstrated Howie’s sensitivity regarding scientific education beyond the walls of academia. In this program he emphasized the centrality of scientific inquiry, experimentation and the importance of data in drawing conclusions. This was decades before the emergence of STEM education, so loudly touted today. At the other end of the instructional spectrum, Howie developed the freshman seminar program where small groups of students met weekly with individual biology faculty to engage in scientific discourse, and to discuss topics relevant to academic success. A major Lenhoff effort was the Journal of Undergraduate Research which he developed and edited and which was published by the School of Biological Science. This journal became the model for similar efforts at other colleges. Much to the chagrin of certain department heads, the science reported in the journal was of sufficient quality to be cited in reviewed publications. Finally, at Irvine, Howie was the consummate biology teacher. He was especially effective in the large lecture format (500+) students. The keys to his success lay in his love of teaching, love of students and his emphasis on the growth of individuals. He was always developing special ways to teach content and to provide special material and techniques to help students succeed. In the context of large class instruction, Howie and I worked with a computer scientist in Long Beach (as I recall), to develop a student response system. The idea of being able to communicate with individual students and to integrate their responses in real time was Howie’s idea. He envisioned a device that would be built into the armrest of the lecture hall seats and which would resemble a keyboard. Through a hard-wired computer interface students would be able to communicate directly to the lecturer. In a later permutation, a hand-held infrared device was prototyped. Despite interest from a variety of sources, we (Howie)were never able to obtain funding for further development. Nearly forty years later, “clickers” (student response systems) are the rage in large lecture formats. Go figure! This was not the end of Howie’s student response system ideas. In his large lecture class, Howie devised a strategy for students to use when they became lost or confused. He urged them simply to hiss. The greater the volume of hissing, the more students were having difficulty. Howie used this quite effectively to respond immediately to student difficulties with the lecture material. Now the fun! The following quarter when the students took ecology, they continued the same hissing procedure—however, the professor was not aware of the routine, nor was the biochemistry professor the next quarter. When they were finally clued in, these poor, demoralized profs. were so upset with Howie. Howie thought it was hilarious!! Perhaps one of the most remarkable and inventive ideas that Howie hatched, was the great mosquito eradication program at Santa Anita racetrack. In the center of the track was a decorative lake which was the source of swarms of hungry mosquitoes that attacked the racetrack patrons. I don’t know the exact details of how Howie convinced the management to support a pilot program to study the possibility of using hydra as a biocontrol agent, but he did. He then enlisted a Ph.D. student to do the experiments (the student eventually completed his dissertation based on the pilot study). The experimental set up was jaw-dropping. In a large coop there were chickens that served as blood meals for the female mosquitoes; there were cheesecloth bags containing rotting fruit for feeding the male mosquitoes; there were water-containing troughs where the hydra lived and basked. Larval mosquitoes hatched from eggs laid in the water served as food for the hydra. So, according to Howie, you put chicken feed in and grew hydra. Apparently the system worked well enough to provide sufficient data for energetic and population dynamic conclusions. Alas, the system was not used in Santa Anita, as I recall, because the salinity of the lake was variable depending upon the deposition of salt via wind-driven sea mist. There are so many stories and inspiring episodes. Howard was a prolific writer—I hope someone will write a biography describing his remarkable career—it would surely be a best seller!!! Though he is gone, his influence continues and his memory is etched in my heart.

December, 12 2011

Vicki Buchsbaum Pearse

Experimental biology of cnidarians at HIMB 1967: Remembrances In the summer of 1967, at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, the NSF sponsored a graduate research course on cnidarians, resulting in a book titled Experimental Coelenterate Biology, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1971. Cnidarians were then often called coelenterates, an old habit that certain participants never got over, although Hatschek had recognized the phylum Cnidaria in 1888. (Biological jargon evolves and adapts, slowly, like its subjects….) According to pronouncements in the book, the goals of this course were (at least) two-fold: HIMB was seeking more visibility for its lab and for research “in the tropical environs of Hawaii.” The instructors considered it “a pilot program to train graduate students for experimental research with marine animals.” The particular animals featured were, as usual, secondary but, for some of us, a key attraction. What was achieved was more than anyone probably imagined, by a spectacular margin — a synergy of the site, the plan, and the people. My participation in the course was — as with most of life’s best parts –entirely serendipitous. Some months earlier, accidental events had prodded me, finally, to make the road trip from Hopkins Marine Station, where I was doing my PhD thesis on some sea anemones, south to UCLA to visit the lab of Leonard Muscatine, whose own graduate research had focused on the same species. We had a good visit, and Len invited me to apply for the HIMB summer course. Naturally, I jumped on it. What an opportunity! Not only was Len to be on the faculty but also Howard Lenhoff, another visible star in the constellation of cnidarian biologists. Already smitten with tropical oceans after a quarter aboard Stanford’s ship Te Vega in the Indian Ocean, committed to cnidarian research, and in the final phases of my degree, I looked forward to broadening my experiences, approaches, and contacts. The summer was a young biologist’s dream: a tropical island lab, a rich new fauna, an atmosphere of excitement about questions, new skills to learn daily, and an open and interactive relationship with the course’s extraordinary assemblage of faculty and fellow students. Even such minor revelations as how to draw out and calibrate handmade glass micropipets became vivid, lasting memories. Our research projects led to life-long interests and directions. For example, my project on tracing sources of carbon in the skeleton of mushroom corals yielded a paper in Nature and a postdoc with Len on coral and algal calcification, expanding later into studies of calcification in sea urchins with my husband John and further research in tropical marine biology. Icing on the cake was experiencing Hawaii. Especially a sleepy little Kaneohe that no longer exists. To us, isolated on tiny Coconut Island and immersed in research, the occasional outing there for groceries and pizza was a Trip to Town. I ventured alone one day into an Asian-Hawaiian restaurant where I was the only haole and felt unwelcome: a tiny but eye-opening glimpse of how it can feel to be a minority, a priceless life-lesson. In contrast, Howie’s friend Kaupena Wong introduced us to Hawaiian culture. Towards summer’s end, I had access for a while (in exchange for the keys to my little oceanfront duplex and VW bug in Pacific Grove) to the car of a UH prof; though old and limping, his tan Carmen Ghia abruptly boosted my popularity and offered us more freedom to explore “the tropical environs of Hawaii.” Howie and Len and their families welcomed us to their homes. A little later, my PhD and post-doc with Len behind me, Howie engaged me to work with him at UCI, coordinating the labs, teaching assistants, and media for his big undergraduate course, also an opportunity to become further acquainted. Yet it is the summer of 1967 that retains the deepest, most vivid imprint. A number of us from that course have remained in ongoing contact. For impressionable students and faculty alike, those few brief, formative summer months proved an enduring influence on our lives and careers.

September, 27 2011

Gaby Kass-Simon &Elaine Robson

Howard is missed by all who knew him.

September, 27 2011

Gaby Kass-Simon &Elaine Robson

Howard Lenhoff’s discovery of the feeding response of Hydra evoked by reduced glutathione (GSH) is still used by several laboratories as a quantifiable bio-assay for analysing chemical neurotransmission. His biochemical analyses opened the door to the characterisation of the GSH/glutamate receptor. His wide-ranging scientific interests included the historical sources of research on Hydra. He thus sought the relationship between the seminal experiments of Ethel Browne, which demonstrated that implanted head tissue could induce a bud, and the experiments of Hans Spemann which established the existence of the vertebrate organiser. In order to consult original sources Howard visited Spemann’s archives in Germany. Among other correspondence with Spemann T.H.Morgan had sent Ethel Browne’s paper. Howard Lenhoff’s influence on the scientific community remains far-reaching, if only because he shared his understanding of experimental methods in the form of several books inspired by Hydra.