July 29, 2014

Robert F. Rakowski

With sadness the MBL announces the passing of Dr. Robert F. Rakowski, a long-time visiting investigator and member of the MBL Corporation who died suddenly on February 19 at his home in Athens, Ohio. The MBL flag will be lowered in his memory. The obituary below was written by Dr. Rakowski’s friends and colleagues, Dr. Paul De Weer and Dr. David Gadsby.

Robert F. Rakowski 1941-2008

Born in Rahway NJ, Robert F. Rakowski earned undergraduate and masters degrees in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University. Following military duty as Captain, USAF Biomedical Science Corps, including service in the Vietnam war, he obtained a Ph.D. in Physiology under Prof. Paul Horowicz at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. After 2-year postdoctoral stints with Prof. W. Knox Chandler (Yale University) and with Prof. Richard, Lord Adrian (Cambridge University), in 1975 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Washington University in St. Louis. Beginning in 1984 he spent sixteen years at The Chicago Medical School (now Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science) where he rose from Associate Professor to Professor and Chairman of Physiology and Biophysics. There he attracted and trained several outstanding students, among them Miguel Holmgren, now Investigator at NINDS, NIH, and Adjunct Scientist and regular Visiting Investigator at MBL. In 2000 Dr. Rakowski moved to Ohio University in Athens, where he was Chairman of Biological Sciences for five years before devoting himself, since 2005, exclusively to research and teaching.

Dr. Rakowski was an outstanding experimentalist with a knack for exploiting electronics and computers yet with a deep sense of biological reality (he was also a champion oarsman and an avid and expert fisherman). With Drs. Chandler and Schneider he was the first to demonstrate the so-called displacement currents that mediate excitation-contraction coupling in muscle fibers. In the early 1980s he turned his attention to the even smaller transmembrane currents generated by the electrogenic sodium pump. It was to work on this problem (in a longstanding collaboration with Drs. Paul De Weer, David Gadsby, Miguel Holmgren and, more recently, Francisco Bezanilla) that he became, for 27 years, a regular Visiting Investigator at the MBL, using the squid giant axon as experimental preparation.

Dr. Rakowski is survived by his wife of 43 years, Linda Hall Rakowski whom he met when they were both students at Cornell University, sister Jean Ann Holzenthaler, daughters Emily, Jennifer and Cara, and 4 grandchildren. He had planned to retire from Ohio University at the end of the current semester to settle with his wife in Falmouth, MA.