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Obituary for Dan Tawfik

Obituary for Dan Tawfik by Lianet Noda

I met Danny in 2008 when I came to visit his lab for six months at the end of my masters. I arrived at his lab directly from the airport. I remember it was a Wednesday morning, and it was then that I discovered that Danny works from home on Wednesdays’. “Typical Danny”, someone from his group said, he has an issue with schedules; but I actually didn’t care, the group took care of me, and perhaps I was just a little bit disappointed I would have to wait another 24 hours to meet him. For two years I was reading and obsessing over Danny’s work, and I couldn’t believe I was here. Moreover, during those 6 months, Danny and his brilliant team of scientists treated me like one of their own, and that was addictive.

After my time in Weizmann with Danny, I went back to México to do a Ph.D. and I came back after four and half years for a postdoc.

There were still few friends from the old gang, and one of them told me, you’ll find Danny is now a better mentor. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. I think Danny was born a scientist, maybe even a genius. He was so fast with his mind and in his words, that it would be hard for us sometimes to understand him, and that frustrated him a bit, but only because he wanted to interact with us at the same level of thinking so that we could do science together. Smart as he was, he actually found the solution, he constantly improved his way to pass knowledge and, as time passed, Danny evolved to be a great mentor for us. Thank you, Danny.

On the first day of my postdoc (this time not a Wednesday), Danny took me to walk around Weizmann for like 2 hours just to hear about my scientific interests, we limited my projects to 5, all different! After that, he said, very well, in the next month’s you’ll just read and think, we will be discussing those ideas until we define a project for the next years, and we did, and we had a lot of fun! Thank you so much.

One day I told Danny I wanted to stay and do science in Israel, and he was actually really glad, and very naturally we became closer and closer. In these last couple of years, I and Danny use to have Sabbath diner or Saturday brunch-hikes together, and the occasional jazz concert. The routine would be the same, he would always cook for me. If anything, I would be allowed to cut the potatoes and as long they were in the exact right size. But he would prefer to cook, and Danny was a great cook, chef style, so I loved our dinners and brunches, eating and drinking and talking about life, family, love and of course, philosophy and science, for hours.

This allowed me to see sides of Danny I didn’t know much about before, one of which I would like to share. Danny, besides a brilliant scientist and mentor, good friend, and chef, was also a philanthropist. I realized Danny often supported Israeli jazz artists in their early career stages, and other causes I only heard about these last days. His generosity was endless. Danny was also too shy to say it, so I wonder if the extent of his generosity will ever be fully known.

Danny, I’m heartbroken for losing you. I miss you so much, but as I see many others also do, I feel less lonely. The generosity you spread is coming back to us in these hard times, your alumni, friends, and collaborators are supporting your group, you’d be so proud to see. Maybe many of you don’t know, but this year we were celebrating the 20 years of the Tawfik lab, in this short time Danny graduated more than 45 students, and many of them are now leaders in academic institutions and biotech. They were coming, from all around the world, to celebrate with you. It is sad we are writing tributes instead.