In Remembrance: Harold J. Morowitz ’47, ’51PhD Died on March 22 2016

Harold J. Morowitz died on March 22, 2016. He was an American biophysicist best known as a leading authority on the origin of life.  His book Energy Flow in Biology laid out his pioneering thesis that “the energy that flows through a system acts to organize that system,” an insight later quoted on the inside front cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalogue.  The Wikipedia entry for “Life” quotes Morowitz that “life is a property of an ecological system rather than a single organism or species.”

Morowitz received a BS in physics and philosophy, an MS in physics, and a PhD in biophysics (at age 23), all from Yale University.  He was a professor in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale from 1955 to 1987, also serving as the master of Pierson College.  From 1988 to 2016 he was the Clarence Robinson Professor of Biology and Natural Philosophy at George Mason University.  He was the founding director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason, chairman emeritus of the science board of the Santa Fe Institute, and founding editor of the journal Complexity.  He authored or coauthored 19 books, including the forthcoming The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth. 

For 22 years Morowitz wrote a monthly popular science column for the magazine Hospital Practice that confirmed his reputation for a wide-ranging intellect gifted at communicating scientific ideas with humor and optimism.  The essays were later collected into five books praised by Lewis Thomas, Carl Sagan, and Buckminster Fuller.  C. P. Snow called the essays “some of the wisest, wittiest, and best informed that I have read.” 

Morowitz was a longtime consultant for NASA, and served on the committees that planned the quarantine procedures for Apollo 11 and the biology experiments the Viking probe carried to the surface of Mars. 

He and his wife Lucille had five children (Joanna, Eli, Joshua, Zachary & Noah) and nine grandchildren (Matthew, Laura, Philip, Rachel, Jeremy, Jessica, Adam, Daniel and Maisy).  His first great-grandchild is expected in June.

A tireless educator, Morowitz continued to write and teach until the day before his death at age 88.  He was fond of saying that as a teacher of the young he was contractually obligated to be an optimist.  His commencement addresses declared:

Conformity is not necessarily a virtue
Hard work is almost never vice
Hopefulness is a moral imperative
And, a sense of humor helps.

—Submitted by the family.

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