LTAAward Andy Benson October 17, 2009

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Ceremony of the Rebeiz Foundation for Basic Research Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Andy Benson

Andrew A. Benson, Professor at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, since 1962, retired as Professor Emeritus in 1988. He holds a B.S. degree in Chemistry, obtained in 1939 from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Neurobiology, obtained in 1942, from Caltech.

The complete curriculum vitae of Professor Benson can be viewed by clicking on the Benson Curriculum Vitae link and his complete list of publications by clicking on Andy Benson Publication link.

Professor Benson was awarded the Rebeiz Foundation for Basic Research (RFFBR) Life time Achievement Award (LTAAward) for 2008, on October 17, 2009, for his many outstanding contributions to Photsynthesis Research and his numerous other Biological Research Achievements. Many Plant Scientists feel that he should have shared the 1961 Noblel Prize in Chemistry with Melvin Calvin for their joint work on the Calvin-Benson Carbon Fixation Cycle in plants. An account of the ceremony that highlights these achievements follows.

The Ceremony

The ceremony took place on Saturday October 17, 2009, at 5:00 pm at the RFFBR headquarters, at 2209 Edgewater Place, Champaign Illinois. Over 58 guests, including Five Foundation Board Directors (Hans Bohnert, Christoph Benning, Govindjee, Constantin A. Rebeiz, and Carole Rebeiz) attended the ceremony which consisted of a social hour, a buffet dinner accompanied by an assortment of wines, and testimonials by C. A. Rebeiz (RFFBR President), Govindjee (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign), Hans Bohnert (Filling in for Hartmut Lichtenthaler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany) Christoph Benning (Michigan State University at East Lansing), and Carole Rebeiz (Secretary-Treasurer, filling in for Bob Buchanan, University of California at Berkeley). Then Tino Rebeiz read a testemonial mailed by Paul Casyelfranco (UC Davis). At the end of the ceremony, a recognition plaque and a monetary award were presented to Govindjee who represented Andy at the celebration. The ceremony was concluded with a Champagne toast to Andy.

A copy of the mahogany framed certificate of recognition to Andy Benson is Shown Below

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C. A. Rebeiz acted as master of ceremony and introduced the various speakers. His introduction briefly stated that it is very important to recognize major achievements by scientists, because those who do not pay attention to historical lessons are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past and ignore present and future achievements. An account of the introductory remarks is given below.

Tino stated: “I would like to acknowledge the Board Directors of the Foundation who by casting their vote have chosen Andy Benson as the recipient of the 2008 Life Time Achievement Award. They are, in alphabetical order:

Thomas Bach, University of Strasbourg, France
Hans Bohnert, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)
Christoph Benning, Michigan State University
Henry Daniell, Central Florida University
Govindjee, UIUC
J. Kenneth Hoober, Arizona State University
William Lucas, University of California at Davis
Archie Portis, of UIUC, and
Baishnab C. Tripathy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

I would also like to acknowledge four persons, who by direct or indirect actions through the years, have made it possible for the Foundation to come into being:

--Stanley Ikenberry, President Emeritus of the University of Illinois (UI), who is accompanied by his wife Judy, an excellent and gifted painter. I should also point out that Professor Ikenberry has gracefully accepted to come out of retirement to act as Interim President of the University of Illinois during this difficult period that we are presently witnessing.

--Morton Weir, Chancellor Emeritus, who could not make it to the ceremony.

--Ned Goldwasser, U.I Vice Chancellor Emeritus for research, and finally,

--John Campbell, Dean Emeritus of the UIUC College of Agriculture and President Emeritus of the University of Oklahoma, who is accompanied by his lovely wife Eunice.

Then Tino continued, it is common knowledge among historians that the study of the Past helps in understanding the future. Therefore, we are gathered here tonight to honor the past achievements of Andrew (Andy) A. Benson. By recognizing these past achievements we hope to take notice of the achievements of young scientists who are now attempting to emulate Andy. Several of tonight’s speakers will describe some of Andy’s achievements. I would like to point out that these achievements are of universal value. In addition to their inherent Academic value, scientists who are now involved in research aimed at improving the capabilities of plants to produce food, fiber and bioenergy are building on the foundation laid down by Andy. With this said I would like to introduce tonight speakers.”

Then the platform was turned over to several other speakers, namely: Govindjee, Professor Emeritus at UIUC, 2006 recipient of the RFFBR LTAAward, and a close friend of Andy; Hans Bohnert, Professor at UIUC, who represented Hartmut Lichtenthaler a friend of Andy and Professor Emeritus of the Karlruhe Institute of Technology, Germany; Christoph Benning , Professor, at Michigan State University, East Lansing, who experienced personal interactions with Andy; Carole C. Rebeiz, RFFBR secretary-treasurer who represented Bob Buchanan, Professor at, at Berkeley and a dear friend of Andy. Then C. A. Rebeiz, read a statement from Paul A. Castelfranco Professor Emeritus, University of California at Davis, and recipient of the 2007 RFFBR LTAAward.

Then the platform was turned over to several other speakers, namely: Govindjee (Professor Emeritus University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign), Bill Breidenbach (Professor Emeritus, UC Davis), Bill Lucas (Director of the Department of Plant Biology UC Davis), Alan Stemler, (Professor Emeritus UC Davis), and Anne Castelfranco, Paul’s daughter and a mathematician.

Govindjee, an expert Photosynthesis scientist, a recipient of the first Rebeiz Foundation Life Time Achievement Award, given in 2006, a member of the Foundation Board of Directors and a friend of Andy Benson, gave a moving PowerPoint presentation that detailed some of Andy’s achievements. A condensed text account of the presentation is given below.

Govindjee, who was accompanied by his wife Rajni, began by stating “Photosynthesis is the source of all our food and most of our energy resources on Earth, and Andy Benson has made pioneering research in our understanding of how plants convert CO2 into food and has, in addition, discovered important new plant lipids. He has already had many honors. Today, we are adding to these honors the RFFBR LTAAward here in Urbana-Champaign that was the home of two other pioneers in photosynthesis research: Robert Emerson and Eugene Rabinowitch.

Govindjee recalled the Award that Andy Benson had received in 1962, just one year after Melvin Calvin had received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the work that Melvin Calvin and Andy Benson had done with several other collaborators. The Ernest Orlando Lawrence Memorial award, given to Andy by Glenn Seaborg (a Nobel Laureate), read “Andrew A. Benson, 44, of UCLA’s Lab of Nuclear Medicine and Radiation Biology, pioneered the use of Carbon-14 as a radioactive tracer in biochemistry. Since then, he has been a leader in the use of radioactive isotopes to study photosynthesis, the process by which plants use sunlight to convert CO2 to food.”

Govindjee then mentioned that volume 30 in the Series ‘Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration’ (Springer), just released, is dedicated to Andy in recognition of his pioneering work in Plant Biology and Plant Biochemistry, to his undisputed contributions to the elucidation of the path of carbon in photosynthesis by green plants via the Benson –Bassham-Calvin cycle, and to his discoveries of important Plant Lipids that are key to chloroplast structure and function. Then, he showed photographs of Andy taken (i) at his 90th birthday held at a world-famous restaurant Le Procope (est. 1865, and a favorite of Napoleon), St. Germain Paris, France. Among others, the dinner was attended by Hartmut Lichtenthaler, Roland Douce, Gerard Milhaud and Bob Buchanan. (ii)Then Govindjee showed several slides of Andy when he worked at the University of California, Berkeley; (iii) several slides of Andy’s collection of instruments and chromatograms from the Berkeley period; and finally slides of Andy’s numerous discoveries, and antique cars. Govindjee ended this presentation with the following two photographs of himself with Andy (left), and of Andy with his charming wife Dee (right).

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The next testimonial was sent to us by Hartmut Lichtenthaler. Hartmut is a Professor Emeritus at Karlruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, an expert on Chloroplast Isoprenoids, and a friend of Andy Benson. Since Hartmut could not travel to Champaign, his testimonial was read by Hans Bohnert. Hans is a UIUC professor, one of the directors of the UI Biotechnology Center, a member of the Foundation Board of Directors and a plant stress expert.

Hartmut Lichtenthaler stated:

“It is with great pleasure that I have learned that you (Andy) are being awarded the renowned 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Rebeiz Foundation for Basic Research. Please accept my warmest congratulations for this great honor. I am very happy and pleased that you receive this award, in recognition of your outstanding and influential research in plant biochemistry and science over many decades. You really deserve this award.

Your great and pioneering contributions to Photosynthesis in the elucidation of the path of carbon in photosynthetic cells and to the field of Plant Lipids by detecting new glycerolipids as functional components of photosynthetic membranes, such as phosphatidylglycerol and the sulfolipids, were milestones and will never be forgotten. Your scientific research was always extremely innovative and creative, and thus you made substantial progress in science leading the rest of the field. I remember well our stimulating and inspiring discussion on the arrangement of glycerolipids, chlorophylls and carotenoids in the photosynthetic biomembrane during my first visit to your laboratory in La Jolla in the summer of 1963. Over the years you encouraged and inspired many young colleagues to proceed in science like you did so successfully. Andy, it is a great privilege to know you as a colleague and as a friend. I was delighted that we were able to honor you on your 90th birthday in 2007 with a dinner at Le Procope in Paris, and to have presented you the special Andrew A. Benson Issue of Photosynthesis Research*. Now enjoy the Rebeiz Lifetime Achievement Award. I wish you many more happy years with your dear wife Dee.”

* Photosynthesis Research 92:143—271 (2007)

Christoph Benning gave a personal account of his experiences with Andy Benson and the profound influence that Andy had on his career. Andy Benson discovered the plant sulfolipid, which became the focus of Christoph’s Ph.D. work in Chris Somerville’s lab at Michigan State University. Later, Christoph and his students identified the genes encoding key enzymes of sulfolipid biosynthesis in different organisms and confirmed the sugar-nucleotide biosynthetic pathway for this lipid, which was one of several pathways that were originally proposed by Andy Benson. As such, Andy Benson inspired generations of scientists to follow up upon his original discoveries of chloroplast lipids and his ideas concerning the biosynthesis of plant sulfolipids. Andy Benson has always stated that this lipid is interesting, because of its unique sulfonate head group making it “Nature’s best Detergent”. As it turns out, sulfolipid is widely distributed and highly abundant in the biomass of the oceans and has now been recognized as a critical molecule that can substitute for anionic phospholipids, giving photosynthetic organisms an advantage in a phosphate deprived environment.

The Next testimonial about Andy was mailed to us by Bob Buchanan. Bob is a Professor at UC Berkeley, an expert on photosynthesis and a friend of Andy Benson. Bob could not make it to Champaign, because he was travelling in Japan.

Bob Buchanon statement is given below.

“Andrew Benson's contributions justify the highest form of recognition. His path-breaking Berkeley experiments were key to the elucidation of the photosynthetic Calvin-Benson pathway. His later work on lipids is also stellar. He is one of the few in his league to serve as a model, both as a person and as a scientist. I am truly pleased that he is being recognized by the Rebeiz Foundation and feel honored, indeed, to write on his behalf.”

The last testimonial was mailed to Tino Rebeiz by Paul Castelfranco, a Professor Emeritus at UC Davis. Paul is a chlorophyll biosynthesis expert and the recipient of the second Rebeiz Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award given in Davis, California on June 7, 2007.

Paul Castelfranco wrote to me: “Tino, please give Andy Benson my regards. I had him as a TA in an Organic Chemistry course, taught, I believe, by Dr. Branch (Spring 1942). And I remember specifically that he (Andy) could give the structure of every colored intermediate formed when nitrobenzene was reduced to aniline by Zn dust. I was tremendously impressed and after WWII, I came back to UC Berkeley for an MS degree in organic chemistry. So can you see in how many ways a good teacher can affect his students.”

Since for last minute unforeseen complications, Andy Benson was unable to travel to Champaign, he designated Govindjee to stand for him during Handing of the Awards. Therefore Govindjee received the award plaque, which was later mailed to Andy along with an envelope containing the monetary award. It is to be noted that to receive the Award on behalf of Andy, Govindjee wore Andy’s bow-tie that was mailed to him earlier

To end the ceremony, Tino proposed a Champagne Toast to Andy’s achievements.

After the Champaign toast the guests were served dessert accompanied by a sweet cream cherry liqueur, as well as coffee and tea. After further socialization, the gests started departing.


We thank Ms. Pam Harding for helping with the buffet, drinks and the guests and Laurent Gasquet of Gasquet Photography, who recorded the ceremony on photos.

A few representative photos taken by Laurent Gasquet are displayed below as a collage.

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Figure Caption: Scenes from the Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremony for Andy Benson held on October 17, 2009 at the Rebeiz Foundation for Basic Research Headquarters at 2209 Edgewater Place, Champaign Illinois, 61822.

First Row, from left to right: 1, Govindjee and Rajni Govindjee; 2, Tony Crofts and his wife Christine Yerkes; 3, Judy and Stanley Ikenberry; John Campbell, Mounir Nayfeh and Hitaf Nayfeh; 4, Bob Gennis and Steve Long

Second Row from left to right: 1, Tino Rebeiz, giving the introductory remarks; 2, Govindjee presenting the first slide of his talk on Andy ; 3, Stanley Ikenberry listening to Govindjee’s presentation; 4, Christoph Benning making his presentation; 5, Hans Bohnert standing in for Hartmut Lichtenthaler

Third Row from left to right: 1, Dennis Buetow, sitting and Christoph Benning standing behind him; 2, Govindjee putting on a bow-tie, the signature of Andy Benson and representing Andy during handing of the awards; 3, Tino Rebeiz handing the awards to Govindjee for remittance to Andy Benson; 4, group photo of the Champagne toast to Andy: Sitting (from left to right): Hitaf Nayfeh, Sunanda Vittal, and Shyamla Balgopal; Standing (from left to right): Bob Gennis, Hans Bohnert, Steve Long, Luiz De Mejia, Christoph Benning, Raheel, Carole Rebeiz, Tino Rebeiz, and Mastura Raheel

Several photo collages from the social hour and Ceremony are displayed Below.

Social hour 1

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Social hour 2

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Social hour 3

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Social hour 4

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Social hour 5

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Social hour 6

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Social hour 7

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Ceremony 1

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Ceremony 2

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Ceremony 3

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Ceremony 4

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Ceremony 5

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