Leonard S. Lerman

June 27, 1925September 19, 2012

LEONARD SOLOMON LERMAN (1925-2012) – Scientist, Citizen, Father Leonard Lerman was born in Pittsburgh Pa of Ukranian-Jewish parents in 1925. His father, Meyer Lerman, was chased out of New York during the Palmer Raids in 1917 because of his membership in the Communist Party. His mother, Freamah Hoffman, was an anarchist and a friend of Emma Goldman.

Leonard Lerman demonstrated an unusual level of curiosity about science as early as eight years of age. Neither of his parents, Meyer and Freamah Lerman had the opportunity to attend college, but their encouragement led both Leonard and his brother Omar Khayyam Lerman to develop life-long interests in literature, music and the arts.

Leonard studied science at Taylor Allderdice High School under Lon Colborn, a legendary chemistry teacher who launched more than 300 students into careers in science. Leonard competed in a science radio show in Pittsburgh and at age 16 was awarded a scholarship to attend Carnegie Tech University (now Carnegie Mellon). Entering college without receiving a high school diploma, Leonard completed his undergraduate education in five semesters, subsequently working in an experimental weapons research lab during World War II. After the war, Leonard went on to complete a Ph.D. under Linus Pauling at Cal Tech University. During this period he studied antibodies, and discovered two binding sites on the gamma-globulin molecule. The bulk of Leonard’s career was devoted to the study of the biophysical properties of the DNA molecule. His work on the insertion or “intercalation” of mutation-inducing compounds into DNA represented one of the critical steps leading to Francis Crick’s subsequent deduction of the DNA code for protein production. Leonard’s later work focused on “denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis”, an early technique for sequencing DNA. Leonard served on the faculties of the University of Colorado, Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the and State University of New York at Albany, where he was chairman of the Biology Department. He also worked at the Genetics Institute in Cambridge, Mass. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Leonard possessed a lifelong interest in the history and philosophy of science. He held himself and others to high standards of scientific integrity, often delaying publication of research results to confirm or refute the concept he was attempting to prove. Sidney Altman and Tom Maniatis did graduate work with Leonard. Altman, who is on the faculty of Yale University, received a Nobel Prize. Maniatis, who taught at Harvard and now teaches at Columbia University, received a Lasker Award.

At the close of his life, Leonard worked develop a method to destroy anthrax and other pathogens in the wake of the 2001 bio-terrorist attack. Leonard condemned irrationality and destructiveness in all its forms. In the final years he was gravely concerned about the rise of religious intolerance and bigotry. Leonard Lerman was a devoted parent to Averil, Lisa, and Alexander. He has seven grandchildren, Rushi, Sam, Yinshi, Sarah, Abraham, Dania, and Ben. His marriages to Claire Lerman (mother of his three children) and Elizabeth Taylor both ended in divorce. For his last two decades, he lived with his partner Lisa Steiner, whose devoted care supported him in illness as it had in strength. Leonard will be missed for his intelligent, relentless curiosity, his sardonic wit, his cooking (he was a creative chemist in the kitchen). He was a unique, and uniquely gifted man. Arrangements by the Levine Chapels, Brookline, MA. 617-277-8300


Leonard S. Lerman

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October 18, 2012

Averiil, Lisa, and Sasha,
I remember your family fondly from its Nashville years. I send condolences to you and to the large, extended family which I know offered great joy to Leonard. It's been a long time and you were young, so you may not remember me. But I remember you. Joan Harshman