Irwin Tessman Symposium

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Memorial Resolution for Irwin Tessman Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

Irwin  Tessman, 86, of West Lafayette, passed away on Friday, November 4, 2016. He was born November 24, 1929, in Brooklyn, NY, to the late Morris and Anna Tessman. He married Ethel Stolzenberg who preceded him in death.

Irwin Tessman received his PhD degree in physics from Yale University in 1954 and did postdoctoral research in biophysics at Cornell University. He continued his research at MIT before joining the Purdue Biological Sciences faculty with his wife, Ethel, in 1959. After a short respite at the University of California at Irvine, they returned to Purdue.

Professor Tessman studied the effects of radiation-induced mutations on bacterial cells and viruses and did careful, quantitative work. These studies on viruses gained wide recognition. A primary contribution was to provide convincing evidence for the existence of a bacterial virus that contained only one part of the genetic complement, i.e. a so-called "single-stranded molecule." This was a major departure from the accepted dogma and extended the appreciation of the broad range of living material. He did further detailed research on the ability of cells to repair genetic damage. All of his biological research was basic to our fundamental understanding of living cells.

Irwin was a brilliant, eclectic scholar and set very high standards for his own research and that of others. He relished his role as a "feuilletonist," a contributor of short essays on a variety of topics. Professor Tessman delighted in carefully analyzing the commentary and research of others and making detailed responses. He especially enjoyed uncovering the statistical flaws in arguments and exploring the influence of evolution on all aspects of life. He taught demanding and very interesting courses to upper-division biology majors. Irwin was well respected in academia, and his advice on a broad range of matters was often sought. He continually challenged the pronouncements of his friends who always appreciated his insight.

In his later life Irwin devoted himself to creating works of art in a variety of media. He was also the most highly ranked senior tennis player in the Lafayette community. Professor Tessman will long be remembered for his very distinguished academic career.