November 22, 2014

Herman T. Epstein

Dr. Herman T. Epstein of Woods Hole, a biophysicist who had done extensive work on brain development, died Sunday from heart failure. He was 86.

Born in 1920 in Portland, Maine, to Russian immigrants, he attended the University of Michigan on a scholarship, and helped initiate student cooperative housing while there. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Michigan, and a master’s from Duke University.

During World War II he met his wife, Doris E. Wright of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; they were married for nearly 60 years. Throughout the war, he worked in hydrodynamics research and development for NASA in Cleveland. He then returned to Michigan to complete his doctorate in physics, eventually becoming a professor of biophysics at Brandeis University, his research involving cellular biology and brain development. When he became a professor at Brandeis, the couple moved to the Boston area, spending over 25 years in Lexington.

During the course of his career, Dr. Epstein published dozens of papers and two books on the subjects of mind, brain, and education. In addition to 40 years as professor at Brandeis, during the 1950s and 1960s he was also an NSF senior postdoctoral fellow in biophysics at the University of Geneva, Switzerland; a Commonwealth Fellow in biochemistry at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth, Israel; and a Guggenheim Fellow in microbiology at Tel Aviv University. In the 1970s he was a Visiting Professor of Microbiology at Tel Aviv University and of Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The Epsteins purchased a home in Woods Hole in 1967 and spent summers there; they became permanent residents around 1990. Dr. Epstein continued his scientific research into his 80s, pioneering several innovative studies with implications for the cause and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. In recent years, he had also published studies on brain development and education, as well as on the effects of substances such as lead and cocaine on learning centers in the brain.

In an article in The Falmouth Enterprise in March, 1995, he discussed his work on brain development and said he would like to see a townwide program aimed at enhancing cognitive development in Falmouth children. He also said that he’d like to see a town daycare program with home visitors based at Lawrence School. At the time, he had just completed work on his new book, Brain, Mind and Education.

In the field of education, he designed courses in “science for non-scientists” at the high school and college levels. His theories of brain development have been used in creating early intervention programs in several countries, and in middle school curriculum development in the US. He enjoyed learning, thinking about new material, and teaching people of all ages.

In addition to his wife, he leaves his children, Becky Sue Epstein of Lexington, Karen Epstein of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Erika Epstein of Los Angeles, and David Epstein of West Hartford, Connecticut; and five grandchildren. A graveside service will be at 3 this afternoon at the cemetery at Falmouth Jewish Congregation, 7 Hatchville Road, Falmouth. The family will receive visitors at home in Woods Hole this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon. Donations in his memory may be made to the Falmouth office of the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod, 67 Ter Heun Dr., Falmouth, MA 02540.

Reprinted with permission of The Falmouth Enterprise.