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Willi Halfter Retirement Presentation by Vance Lemmon
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Willi Halfter Retirement Presentation by Vance Lemmon


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It does not work so great in slide view on SlideShare. I recommend downloading it and running though it in presentation mode so you can read the snarky remarks. It highlights some of the things that …

It does not work so great in slide view on SlideShare. I recommend downloading it and running though it in presentation mode so you can read the snarky remarks. It highlights some of the things that make Willi an awesome scientist!

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  • Vance is getting old apparently. But he must be really silly to be asked to do this more than once. First Japan, then Zurich. Now Willi’s turn.
  • The whole dept went to the theater costume rental shop? Wow. Nice work.
  • In the 1980’s I started seeing cool papers from an MPI in Tubingen. But the names made no sense to me: virology, then something about Ent lungs.
  • Spemann, the greatest developmental biologist has a street named after him at the MPI for developmental biology: Apparently Spemann permeates people there: Hence Willi

    Urs Rutishauser came from CWRU to give a seminar and Carl and I told him what we were doing. He said I needed to go to Tubingen and meet Fritz Rathgen to compare notes. So I did – I went for 2 weeks and had fun doing experiments. One day we were sitting in a common room with some tables and couches and there were a few other people there. All of sudden this wild man came storming into the room shouting hello across the room and exchanging friendly insults with a couple of guys. This guy look kind of rugged, a motorcycle jacket I think, a tattoo and and ear ring. Really? An ear ring? I asked Fritz who this was and he shook his head and said “That’s Willi Halfter”.
  • This photo captures Willi perfectly: He is laughing. He is in motion. He has a scruffy beard. And we can see his tattoo. There are lots of stories about that tattoo. But I know the truth. It is the logo of the Univ. of Tubingen. Ant the UT logo fits Willi perfectly. I will have more to say about that.
  • But what about Willi’s scientific impact? Scientists love to measure and count things but measuring impact is difficult.
  • Apparently Dilbert has never received a pink sheet. If he had he would have added grant reviewers to the list.

    The paper in Cir Res argues that grant reviewers are not prescient.
  • Willi invented a VEERY CLEVER way to study neurite grwoth
  • I used it to study choices axons make between adhesion molecules
  • The paper got a fair number of citations
  • The experiment even made it into a text book
  • But that pales in comparison to the way Bonheoffer’s team exploited that method to discover how ephrins and eph receptors work to regulate retinotectal specificity.
  • They made the astounding discovery that retina axons avoid ephrins
  • People like the stripe assay

    But no Willi upside down retinas and we are all still stuck looking for an assay
  • Tattoo
    Ear ring

    It was mostly his earring that caused some sensation in the institute, as Willi was the first man in the MPI to wear such a thing (maybe at that time, even the very first scientist in Germany?)

    In fact when Willi showed up the first day for graduate school people thought he was a plumber who had come to repair a broken pipe.

    Now people mistake him for an aged member of a hipster band from Brooklyn.

    In his scientific approach, and I am quoting here “Willi never was grimly concentrated on just that one thing; his experiments were always done in a “refreshingly” unconventional way.”

    He tried to find the best way to achieve Golgi silver staining, using a paper clip as reduction agent,

    He would run around that lab shouting

    Du kannst es schaffen
  • Or in English: Just Do It
  • Willi published a paper without his bosses approval because his boss thought the work had no sizzle. I don’t recommend that. It might have unintended consequences. But clearly the work was hot and got many citations.
  • Willi studied chick and quail retina. Working on very tiny eyes is hard and getting the vitreous out is even more difficult. Willi is notoriously cheep but inventive. He use his own eye lashes to remove the vitreous. Clearly inspired by Spemann’s tungsten needles.
  • The quail eggs would come wrapped in a news paper
    Well – a kind of news paper that would be called a tabloid in the U.S.
  • Maybe it looked like this (without the iPad)
    But Willi would have to read it before he started his experiments
    Why? Because he was obsessed with…..
  • Yeah
    He was in love with Princess Caroline of Monaco
    When he was done reading he would…..
  • Turn on some antique radio he found at the flea market
  • He would listen to a public radio station from southern germany: SWR3
  • As you all know Willi is a shy person, who has a hard time expressing his opinions.
    But when he was in Basel on sabbatical at the Biocentrum he was constantly telling his Swiss colleagues that German Bread is terribe
    So every day he would go to Germany to buy bread.
  • He is another photo of Willi in the lab looking in his microscope.

    His technician, Silvia says: I very much appreciate Willi for his love of liberty, his humor, tolerance, and his courage to also go in unconventional ways

    At our institute he was one of the instigators to create a “workers’ committee’, an institution common to all German companies with at least 8 employees
    This was nonexistent in scientific institutions in Germany in the 1980s, since it was “completely unnecessary”, as our director put it.
    The workers committee is still going strong today, and thanks to Willi’s initiative I was among the first technicians who were allowed to attend seminars and lectures.
  • All Willi’s friends know what is on his mind for retirement: Good German Beer
  • Transcript

    • 1. STANDING ON WILLI’S SHOULDERS A presentation at Willi Halfter’s Retirement Party in Pittsburgh, June 6, 2014
    • 2. How do you know it is time to think about retirement? When you are invited to give a lecture at a friend’s retirement For the third time!
    • 3. Nice Hats
    • 4. A LOT of Nice Hats
    • 5. MPI für Virusforschung Max-Planck-Instituts für Entwicklungsbiologie
    • 6. Spemannstraße
    • 7. Willi Mr Unconventional eye in a dish retina on a filter Mr Matrix tenascin and wounds 495 citations Mr Infectious Attempto!
    • 9. Percentile Ranking and Citation Impact of a Large Cohort of NHLBI- Funded Cardiovascular R01 Grants. Narasimhan Danthi, Colin O Wu, Peibei Shi and Michael S Lauer Circulation Research 2014
    • 10. An Upside Down Retina?
    • 11. 177 citations
    • 12. An experiment in a text book
    • 13. Right next to the one it is debunking!
    • 14. Discovery of Eprhin’s roll in retinotectal axon guidance
    • 15. 540 results for “Bonhoeffer” stripe assay
    • 16. Attempto!
    • 17. Attempto!
    • 18. “No schnieke”? 106 citations!
    • 19. Princess Caroline
    • 20. Basel Bakeries Suck The only Bakery in Lörrach, Germany Rocks
    • 21. Congratulations from Fritz R, Stephan K, Uz, Don and Silvia!
    • 22. Bye-Bye Willi! Thanks for all the “refreshingly” unconventional” experiments