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Obituary for Dan Tawfik

Obituary for Dan Tawfik by Dragana Despotovic

Danny was never a speech person, during lab farewells there was never a speech, instead, there was a gift and lot of food. Which, together with science, was our lab’s obsession. If you were hungry, you could always stop by the Tawfik lab. Danny, I know you wouldn’t be comfortable with this, so that’s why I will keep it short.

I’ll describe the atmosphere in the Tawfik lab, and the things that we will remember him by. Danny’s lab was always international. When I joined the group, out of 15 people there were 10 different nationalities. His kind and human nature helped students cut across the cultural differences and enjoy their time in the lab. Also, Danny always understood the personal needs of students, and was very supportive during hard times.

Danny loved to share time with us outside of the lab, not only during the lunch breaks at Weizmann, but every year we would have a big party after the New Year, where there was a lot of eating, even more drinking, and playing games. It was a lot of fun! He also didn’t mind sitting with us in a bar or in front of the kiosk in Rehovot for a beer.

But the most impressive part of working with Danny was witnessing his passion and love for science. If you are doing interesting experiments he would come several times that day asking his famous question: ”How is it going?”. I will never forget the day we isolated a new enzyme. Three of us were standing in front of the protein gel waiting to see the spot where the color of that gel would change from red to yellow, indicating the position of our enzymes. On the first signs of yellow color, we were jumping like kids and hugging each other. These kinds of moments happened often in our lab, and we all shared each other’s happiness and success.

Danny was extremely knowledgeable and very generous with his knowledge. On daily interactions with him, you could witness the way he thinks and develops ideas. Science in our lab was shared, and we were encouraged to challenge each other and discuss. It felt, and probably was true, that he knew it all, except typing. He was slow and quite an inaccurate typist, except in papers. You would send him a paper and think that you have some time to rest, but now, two hours later you were back to work. Danny’s broad knowledge allowed him to successfully cover many fields of science, and form leaders from bioinformatics to structural, environmental biology, and biophysics.

During my Ph.D. my dream was to meet Dan Tawfik. I couldn’t even imagine that I will be that lucky and privileged to work and learn from him for many years. He not only shaped me as a scientist but also as a person.  Danny, thank you for believing in me, for teaching me, and believing in my dream even when I doubted. Our goal as a group is to continue the work you were so proud of. We will keep our Thursday meetings and keep you updated wherever you are.

I want to end my speech by thanking, on behalf of the Tawfik group, the Weizmann Institute, the Tawfik alumni community, and Danny’s scientific friends and collaborators from all around the world for their support.  They reminded us in these sad days when we all grieve his absence how big the legacy of Dan Tawfik is.