Louise Napier Johnson (1940-2012)

[Louise Johnson]

Louise Johnson, biophysicist and structural biologist, died after a 13-month illness which she bore with quiet fortitude and grace. Her life and work impacted very many people worldwide, due to her scientific activities in protein crystallography and enzymology, and her tireless interest and effort in supporting and encouraging scientists in developing countries to establish effective research laboratories as far apart as South America, the Middle East and Pakistan. I am one of those whose life course was changed by Louise.

In the early 1980s her group at Daresbury Laboratory near Runcorn was in the vanguard of those using synchrotron radiation for macromolecular crystallography. Louise’s lifelong interest in applying new techniques to structural biology questions came to the fore when she became Life Sciences Director of Diamond Light Source in 2003. There she oversaw the building and development of this highly effective national facility which is now bearing great fruit for the UK physical and biological sciences research community.

I went to work with Louise when she was appointed to the David Phillips Chair in Molecular Biophysics in 1990. Her management style was 'hands off' but 'attention on' in that she was always there if advice or guidance was needed. Although Louise did not normally accompany us on trips to the synchrotron, during one of her sabbatical terms she worked her way through our usual training program for new researchers, asking penetrating and pertinent questions at every stage. This was a great example to us of how a senior scientist should keep in touch with what daily research really involved, so that challenges faced by students and postdocs could then be better appreciated and overcome.

Her book written with Tom Blundell is a classic text in the field. Her last book with W. Baumeister, A. C. Steven and R. Perham, Molecular Biology of Machines and Assemblies, will be published this year. Along with her numerous colleagues throughout the world, I will miss her inspiration scientifically and personally. I was privileged indeed to have known and worked with her.

Elspeth Garman, ACA RefleXions, Winter 2012