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‘He inspired young minds to take up biology’: Science and education community mourns the death of Professor Sohan Modak

In August 2015, Professor Sohan Modak wrote a heartfelt post on social media about his mentors. “All were good, unassuming, never greedy for power or prize, but bitten by the virus of the quest for the unknown,” the post read.

Today, messages pouring in after his passing on March 23 highlight not only his contribution to the field of biotechnology and bioinformatics, but also how he was an inspiration to many.

Dr K Vijay Raghavan, Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, said the quality of Prof Modak’s teaching and research in Pune and beyond was legendary.

“The death of Professor Sohan Modak (82) has left a huge void in the scientific community. A teacher extraordinaire and the driving force behind several teaching and research initiatives in Pune, Professor Modak has almost single-handedly changed the flavor of the teaching of Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University. of Pune in the early 1980s,” recalled Dr. Surendra Ghaskadbi, Senior Scientist. at the Maharashtra Association for the Cultivation of Science – Agharkar Research Institute (MACS-ARI).

Dr Ghaskadbi said it was a watershed moment for life science education and research in Pune when Prof Modak joined the Department of Zoology at the University of Pune. “He completely transformed biology and biotechnology curricula, inspired young minds to take up biology, and introduced molecular biology into education and research,” said Dr Ghaskadbi.

After graduating and post-graduating from Pune, Professor Modak completed his PhD at the University of Geneva. Later, he joined the University of Pune as a professor. Dr. Modak was instrumental in establishing one of the first five biotechnology teaching centers in the country. He, along with the late Dr. Ulhas Wagh, played a huge role in establishing the National Tissue Culture Facility which is now the DBT-National Center for Cell Science.

“He organized scientific meetings and managed to bring in the best scientists from all over the world. It was a treat for us in our formative years,” Dr Ghaskadbi said.

‘Extremely popular among students, Professor Modak had the rare quality of being fearless while speaking – which did not always impress the establishment,’ added Dr Ghaskadbi.

Prof. Jayanta Pal, Director of the Dr. DY Patil Institute of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Dr. DY Patil Vidyapeeth said the passing of Prof. Modak was a great loss to the teaching and scientific community around the world.

“He joined the Department of Zoology in 1979 when I was completing my doctorate. In a short time, he changed the face of the department. It was a completely different culture – whether it was quality teaching, modernization of curricula, effective mentoring of students and faculty. It ignited a lot of young minds which are now well placed all over the world,” said Professor Pal, who was previously the head of the biotechnology department at the University of Pune, adding that he had learned a lot of Dr. Modak, including his passion for teaching and research.

Kannan Krishnamoorthy, Founder of KK Biotech, said Prof Modak was a visionary as a teacher, researcher and contributor to nation building. “You will continue to inspire by staying in our hearts,” he wrote.