University of California, San Diego

January 7, 1998
Herbert Stern, a distinguished biologist at the University of California, San Diego who conducted pioneering work in the field of cell division, died January 1 from the effects of Alzheimer's disease. He was 79.
Dr.Stern joined UCSD as a professor of biology in 1965 and served as the department's chair from 1967-1975 and again from 1983-1986. While at UCSD, his ground-working investigations helped form our current understanding of meiosis, the process that results in the maturation of gametes, or sex cells. "Among a 
group of departmental citizens, Herb embodied the ideal of a scholar-teacher," said Stephen M. Hedrick, current chair of UCSD's biology department. "Herb 
taught us that we were more than a scientific organization, we were a community 
ethically compelled to justly serve students, and to value and respect staff and
temporary lecturers."
Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Stern came from a poor family whose primary language spoken at home was Yiddish. In addition to English, Stern became fluent in Hebrew. His family treasured education and helped support their son's undergraduate years at McGill University, where he graduated in 1940.
Before enrolling in graduate school, Stern joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a navigator during World War II. Following his military service, Stern continued his education at McGill, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1945 in plant genetics, or botany genetics as it was known. During the following three years, Stern moved to UC Berkeley where he maintained his interest in plant physiology and genetics. He completed his training in 1948-49 as a lecturer in Johannesberg, South Africa.
In 1949, Stern began a six-year period at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City, working in cell biology on the physiology of the nucleus. It was during this time that he acquired an interest in cell division that led to his ground-breaking work in the field of meiosis. It was also during his tenure at Rockefeller that he met his wife, Ruth, a pediatrician.
Dr. Stern migrated back to Canada in 1955, and spent five years as head of biochemical cytology, research branch, Canada Department of Agriculture in Ottawa. He returned to the United States again in 1960, where he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois as a professor of botany. During his five years in Illinois, Stern began to explore the chemistry of DNA modification and synthesis associated with cell division.
His research continued to flourish at UCSD, where his studies of lilies led to fundamental understandings of how meiosis works on the genetic level. Aside from his tenure as department chair of biology, Stern also served as chair of the Academic Senate Committee during the 1973-74 academic year. Among his honors, Stern was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences. He held an honorary Doctor of Sciences degree from McGill University and was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Stern also received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from McGill University in 1975, and was elected a foreign member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in 1976. He delivered numerous honorary lectures and was the author or co-author of 136 publications. Professor Stern is survived by his wife, Ruth and four children, H. David Stern, of Sweet Home, Oregon; David D. Stern, of Ithaca, N.Y.; Jonathan Stern, of Oakland, Calif.; and Rebecca Huston, of La Jolla. The family requests that remembrances be made in the form of a donation to the U.C. San Diego Foundation for the Herbert Stern Graduate Fellowship Endowment Fund #1892, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, Calif. 92093-0940. A memorial service will be held on the UCSD campus at a later date.
Win Cox
Assistant Vice Chancellor -
University Communications