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Remembering Lewis Wolpert

Posted by , on 1 February 2021

On Friday we learned of the death of Lewis Wolpert, a huge figure in developmental biology, a popular science writer and communicator. Here we’ve gathered some memories of Wolpert from the internet – please share your own with a comment below the piece.


Image credit: The British Library


No one who met Lewis could fail to be impressed by his intellect, warmth and humour. Always keen to engage with scientists, regardless of career stage, it was common to see him in animated debates with students and post-docs at conferences. His oratory skills gave him a Thespian aura that could have graced a Shakespearian stage.

Philip Ingham – writing for the Society of Developmental Biologists Singapore


Lewis Wolpert had beautiful ideas and expressed them with elegant words. He inspired so many of us to become developmental biologists

Sally Lowell – writing one of the BSDB committee members’ recollections. They also link to Wolpert’s 2015 Waddington Medal Lecture, embedded below, an award that led Development to interview him.



Wolpert combined his interest in fundamental problems of development with a parallel career as a science communicator. He enjoyed performing in public, and brooked no compromise in his quest to persuade people that “science is the best way to understand the world”. 

Guardian Obituary by Georgina Ferry



Memories from Twitter


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3 thoughts on “Remembering Lewis Wolpert”

  1. One of my highest, then lowest, moments as a graduate student at the University of Washington happened because of, then in front of, Lewis Wolpert. He was visiting the department to give a seminar, and joined the students for lunch. We decided to go to a lunch place that also happened to be a microbrewery; they were huge at the time. I got to talk with him the entire 20 minute walk. He listened and asked questions and was genuinely interested. I was flying! Then we reached the restaurant. In my excitement to be listen to him over lunch, I had forgotten to bring my wallet. It was utterly mortifying when I got turned away at the door because I couldn’t prove I was old enough to drink. Wolpert being Wolpert, he laughed about it with me every time I saw him thereafter. I will miss sharing that laugh.

  2. I am saddened by the death of a great teacher and researcher. He was my tutor in the 1960s and was an inspiration and an exciting person in whose company we were lucky to be . He was at the time researching the movement and differentiation of sea urchins . Far from a boring subject he made ” groovy movies ‘ and got really so excited by the results that his projector jumped around as he pointed out the movements. He also made wagers on the outcome of the results of radio active counts on the Coulter counter . He made science live and be enjoyable and was a unique personality . His image and memory will never die .

  3. What a remarkable life! I recall a grad seminar in the 90s at Berkeley given by Lewis where he and Gunther Stent debated whether embryonic development could be conceived of as a computer program. His visit and the impromptu debate came at just the right time for me. I went back to the Sun workstation to tend my mechanical models of sea urchin primary invagination. His career, starting as a civil engineer and then being drawn to the mysteries of development, served as a shining light, guiding many of us forward.

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