Jnanendra Kumar Bhattacharjee

Dr. B mentoring students

Professor Emeritus of Microbiology
February 1, 1936 - October 7, 2014

Colleague, Teacher,
Mentor, Friend


J.K. Bhattacharjee

Dr. Jnanendra Bhattacharjee (JKB to colleagues and friends) died from a sudden heart attack on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. The day before he had lunched with former colleagues, and was full of life and the energy we will always remember him by. He is survived by his beloved wife Tripti, his son Gourab, and daughter Mala.

JKB was born in Gobindaganj village in Bengal, India (now Bangladesh) on the first of February, 1936. His earliest education was in a single-room elementary school. But he then attended a government high school in Habiganj, then Murari Chand College in Sylhet for a BS in Chemistry, Botany and Physics; he was awarded an MSc in Botany (Fungal Genetics) from Dacca University in 1959, for which he also received the Pakistan President’s Award for being First in the first MSc Class. He came to the United States, and continued his interest in fungal genetics working with Carl Lindgren at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. His doctoral dissertation, defended in 1966, was “A Genetic Study of Repression at the Melezitose (MZ) Locus in Saccharomyces.” Jnanendra then worked as a Research Associate at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia until he arrived in Oxford as Associate Professor of Microbiology in 1968. He was promoted to Professor in 1973 and was a force in the department until he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2005 (although JKB never really retired from ANYthing…).

While JKB taught the usual microbiology courses to undergraduate and graduate MBI majors, and popular, if demanding, Miami Plan courses to undergraduates, he will always be remembered in the university and the State of Ohio for the amazing Summer Workshops he organized and taught throughout the years to high school science teachers.

JKB was also instrumental in the inception of the Master of Arts in Teaching in Biology degree program, which was a cooperative venture by the Departments of Botany, Microbiology and Zoology. Not only did he help design the original program, he taught many courses in support of it, the most notable of which were, perhaps, his National Science Foundation-funded DNA Workshops for teachers. He was most proud of these workshops, unique because the teachers not only performed real recombinant DNA experiments but they were also able to take the equipment home with them. This provided the teachers with a boost of confidence to perform the same experiments back in their classrooms. Over a 10-year period, the workshop program directly impacted approximately 250 teachers in the Tri-State area, and indirectly affected thousands of biology students through contact with their teachers. After hearing of his passing, several of those teachers wrote to us with comments: “The loss of Dr. B is a true loss to humanity. Every time I do any work with micro or biotech I think of Dr. B. He was so inspiring with his passion for educating people” (Meri Johnson); and “I became a better teacher because of my experiences with the NSF genetics workshop led by Dr. B. I am a better person because of knowing Dr. B. The world is a better place just because Dr. B was here. The NSF workshop impacted thousands of lives – not just in the knowledge gained and shared – but also because of the rejuvenation Dr. B provided for the love of teaching. Dr. B’s energy and enthusiasm for teaching and for life was contagious” (Holly Ruff).

After his formal University retirement in 2005 JKB continued to teach, for the Institute for Learning in Retirement. He addressed topics ranging from Darwin’s Legacy and Impact on Evolutionary Biology through Genetically Engineered Foods and Life on Other Planets, to the Uniqueness of Hinduism and Secular India, and his classes were as popular as those he had taught Miami undergraduates for so many years.

JKB was a world leader in research on the synthesis of lysine by the unique α-aminoadipate pathway in yeasts, specifically Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe, and he used the gene sequences he and his students, both undergraduate and graduate as well as postdoctoral fellows, identified to develop probes for detecting pathogenic Candida albicans. His research was funded continuously for 40 years by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and Eli Lilly and Company, and he also received many small grants from Sigma Xi. JKB published more than 75 papers, reviews and book chapters over his research career, and he and his students gave hundreds of presentations of their work at local, regional, national and international meetings including Mexico City, Stockholm, Leningrad, Varna, Montpellier, Kyoto, New Delhi, Helsinki, and Jerusalem. For his work on C. albicans JKB was also awarded three patents. JKB’s research was recognized by his national and international peers and he was asked to review manuscripts for the best scientific journals: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Bacteriology, Analytical Biochemistry, Journal of Lipid Research, Journal of Nutrition, Gene, Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, Canadian Journal of Microbiology, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Infection and Immunity, Molecular Microbiology, and Molecular and General Genetics.

He also reviewed Grant Proposals for the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy, and Ohio State and Ohio Universities; he was invited to evaluate faculty members of the University of Nebraska, University of Idaho, and the Medical Schools of University of Rochester and University of Cincinnati for promotion and tenure.

Richard Garrad, a former graduate student with Dr. B, says he was a tireless and enthusiastic mentor. “He is remembered by his students as someone who truly cared about their futures and to that end he was always attentive to progress in the laboratory. All the graduate students in his laboratory felt like a small part of a greater group of researchers who had come before and would attend in the future. Dr. B would often discuss the important contributions of a previous researcher and make sure we understood where our work fit into this larger picture. What stands out for many of his undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers was that Dr. B ALWAYS had time for you. If you went to his office worrying about something you always left feeling better about things, he was a person who never failed to give of himself. Dr. B was so proud to be a faculty member at Miami University; it inspired several of his students to pursue a similar career.”

An undergraduate researcher with JKB, Steven Irvin, remembers that “Dr. B allowed me to do research in his lab that I felt was comparable to what many graduate students were working on at the time. His sense of humor and perpetual commitment to students is what made him one of the best professors in all of Miami U. The research I did with Dr. B not only resulted in a publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, it led me to explore the limits of technology in answering fundamental questions in biology and evolution. His mentoring got me to work harder to achieve greatness in my work still to this day. Aside from his dedication to science Dr. B was an ambassador for culture at Miami U. He encouraged all students to get involved in science, and everyone to experience other cultures and beliefs. One such example was his introducing me to Diwali, the festival of lights. Finally, Dr. B saw something in me I think most others do not, and at times, myself included. If anyone could lead students to do their best, and strive for greatness it was certainly Dr. B.”

At one time or another JKB served on many and chaired several committees within the department. Perhaps his most notable service was as chair of the Distinguished Lecture Series Committee from its inception until his retirement, a span of nearly 20 years. This lecture series was his brainchild, first funded by the State of Ohio via a special Academic Challenge grant. JKB was a master at convincing distinguished microbiologists to come to our department each year, to visit with faculty and students and present a synopsis of their past and current research. Even before the inception of this program, JKB had often organized lecture series and recruited, among others, two Nobel Laureates, Gobind Khorana and Rosalyn Yarrow.

In these and other seminars in the department, JKB was famous for always asking two questions after a comment on the seminar and giving thanks for the speakers for sharing their research with us. Mary Woodworth, former chair of the department remembers: “When President Paul Pearson was giving a talk at a Rotary meeting and when Dr. B raised his hand President Pearson said, ‘Yes, Dr. Bhattacharjee, I know, you have TWO QUESTIONS.’ We could always depend on Dr. B to initiate discussions and interact with others in every setting.” Don Barnhart says that Dr. B was quite aware of his colleagues’ expectation of him in seminars, explaining he had been taught it was impolite not to ask a question. “The speaker had worked to prepare and present the material and one should demonstrate an interest or appreciation by asking a pertinent question.”

Provost Phyllis Callahan says “When I think of JK, I think of someone completely devoted and committed to his community, whether that was Miami or Oxford. He was an enthusiastic and positive advocate for improving the lives of our citizens.” Mary Woodworth remembers him “as a valued member of the Department of Microbiology, the University and the community, he was forever the AMBASSADOR.” David Stroupe says “At ASM meetings he was the biggest cheerleader for MU I’ve ever seen.”

Mary Ann Coleman, secretary in the Microbiology Department more than 40 years ago, recalls JKB’s patience with her questions about work he’d given her to type. She wanted to get it right and he wanted her to get it right. After a while, she says she could spell Saccharomyces cerevisiae in her sleep. Also, Mary noted, “He didn’t have the worst handwriting. This may sound trivial, but in those days, it counted if I was to type something correctly.”

Although Dr. B’s records of Research and Scholarship, and Teaching were impeccable, he thrived as well in the third pillar of the ideal faculty member: Service. He was an active participant on numerous College and University committees, most notably the President’s (Pearson, Risser, Hopkins [acting], and Garland) Council on Multicultural Affairs, and the President’s First Task Force on Human Relations Commission); he was elected to the University Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee, and many times to Graduate Council; he was also a member of or chaired the Natural and Applied Sciences Subcommittee of Graduate Council under five graduate deans.

Together with several other Miami scientists, JKB was a founder of the Miami University Chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. In addition to having served as its President, he received its Researcher of the Year Award, and instituted its educational outreach program honoring local teachers and students each year in conjunction with Science Day.

JKB extended his distinguished record of service beyond the red brick boundaries of Miami University to Oxford and the communities within the Tri-State region of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. His service to the community was legendary; he was heavily involved in many Talawanda School District activities, and the Cincinnati Hindu Temple; he helped raise money to support literacy in India and he also sent many, many large boxes of textbooks to schools in India over the years – at his own expense; and he was the Vice-President of the Chicago-based Bangladesh Relief for Refugees in 1971-72. He served as President of Kiwanis and also the Oxford Community Foundation (OCF). Dr. Bhattacharjee’s extraordinary community service was recognized when he was named Distinguished Asian-American Citizen of Ohio in 2002, and Oxford Citizen of the Year in 2004.

Dr. Bhattacharjee was an integral part of the Kiwanis Club of Oxford beginning in 1988 when his son was President of the Talawanda Key Club, a Kiwanis-sponsored high school youth leadership club. JK, as he was known to club members, became Kiwanis president in 1992. An avid supporter of youth, he later served as advisor to the Key Club, Builders Club and Circle K, the Kiwanis-sponsored training clubs at Miami University and Talawanda Middle School. He rarely missed the weekly meetings of each of these clubs and was an enthusiastic participant in all their activities, imparting encouragement and support. He was cited as the Ohio Outstanding Circle K Advisor. His attendance at interclub meetings throughout Ohio and Indiana resulted in his being well known as Mr. Kiwanis. Often, he would station himself outside a colleague’s office to sell him or her a ticket to the Annual Kiwanis Pancake Day. You never felt pressured into buying one, because his passion for and commitment to the fundraiser was so infectious. During the breakfast, he could always be found personally greeting each and every one who attended, usually by name.

Dr. Bhattacharjee’s service to the Bengali, Hindu and Indian Community groups was exemplary. He was the founder of Agrani, the Bengali Society of Greater Cincinnati, where he started the Saraswati Puja (worship service for the Hindu Goddess of Learning) in the community, religiously inspiring many young people to become high achievers. Yes, JKB was also a priest and he performed Hindu priesthood services to the Bengali community.

His major accomplishment was establishing the annual Tri-State (Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky) Durga Puja 30 years ago; it was attended by more than a thousand devotees, with he himself acting as a priest for the big religious festival. JKB was one of the founding members of the Hindu Society of Greater Cincinnati, which built an inclusive Hindu Temple on 100 acres near Batavia. He also generously donated for the construction of the temple and guided the temple’s activities and priorities over the years. Occasionally he gave lectures on Hinduism to area schools and churches.

Last but not least, he was a critical and admiring voice of India and educated the ordinary Americans on Kashmir, Indian Secularism, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation by writing letters to the Cincinnati Enquirer, India Abroad, etc. and occasionally lecturing to select groups interested in these topics.

Jnanendra was always a champion in fighting for evolution in the classroom and in thwarting creationism, but when he retired he enlisted Tom Gregg’s and Gary Janssen’s participation in writing projects supporting evolution. These included op-ed pieces and letters to the editor. Most notable was a paper on “teaching evolution.” To get the widest audience of high school teachers it was submitted to the journal “The Science Teacher.” So good did they think their paper was that they failed to notice that it violated every one of the criteria for submission of manuscripts, most notably the one on length which said manuscripts longer than 2000 words would be returned without review. But the editor was so entranced with their 6800 words that, without review, she made it the centerpiece of an entire issue.

JKB was a very generous person – with his time and with his money. When lab space became a problem in MBI, he gave Hamilton Campus microbiologist David Stroupe space in his own lab. JKB’s (and Tripti’s) financial generosity extended well beyond the department – they donated money for scholarships within the university and their foundation supports activities in Oxford, Cincinnati, Dayton, and his home country, Bangladesh.

James Robinson, President Emeritus of the Oxford Community Foundation, on the occasion of JK’s retiring from the Presidency of the OCF Board, said “It is a daunting task to adequately describe an individual whose achievements, enthusiasm and commitment have done so much for the Oxford Community Foundation. This person humbles us. Awe, admiration, respect, and gratitude are emotions that immediately come to mind when we watch and listen to J.K. Bhattacharjee.

“While many of us find it difficult to ask others, especially friends, for contributions, such a task was for JK an aspiration. He did not, however, ask individuals to just ‘make a contribution.’ Rather, he encouraged them to invest in the mission of the Oxford Community Foundation. He was never just a Foundation representative; he was the Foundation’s Ambassador at Large.

“He moved all of us who are involved with the Foundation. He found inspiration in the history of the Foundation, often referring to its founding principles as motivation for future initiatives. He is now a significant part of that history.”

Jnanendra Bhattacharjee will be remembered in Oxford, Miami University, and the Tri-State region for his energy and enthusiasm for science, for his devotion to enhancing education at all levels, for his dynamic leadership in the community he called home for the last 46 years, and for his generosity and commitment to his family, his friends and his colleagues.

The members of this memorial tribute committee feel honored to have known and served with JKB.

Respectfully submitted by Muriel L. Blaisdell, Jerome Conley, Richard C. Garrad, Thomas G. Gregg, Steven D. Irvin, Gary R. Janssen, Anne Morris-Hooke, Rama Rao Pappu, James G. Robinson, John R. Stevenson, and David B. Stroupe.

University News Service - Miami mourns loss of J.K. Bhattacharjee

Jnanendra K. (J.K.) Bhattacharjee, professor emeritus of microbiology at Miami University, died Tuesday, Oct. 7, in Oxford. He was 78. Bhattacharjee, whose support for science teachers was as fervent as his research and contributions to his field, enabled tens of thousands of high school students to clone DNA in school labs in the 1990's and 2000's. He retired from Miami in 2005.

The native of Bangladesh began teaching at Miami in 1968. During 37 years of teaching and research, Bhattacharjee earned numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and other research agencies and also earned two significant patents. In 1999 he received those patents for having discovered a simplified and inexpensive way to detect Candida albicans, a fungus that is potentially lethal to people with weakened immune systems.  In his letter nominating Bhattacharjee for the 1983 Sigma Xi Outstanding Research Contribution Award which he won, former microbiology chair Donald Cox wrote of Bhattacharjee’s “monumental efforts” to bring prestigious research conferences to Miami.  From 1992-2002, with grants cumulatively nearing $1 million, Bhattacharjee ran summer workshops for high school teachers — mostly from Ohio, but from as far away as Florida — showing them how to clone and to teach cloning of DNA, providing them with a stipend and sending them back to their schools with about $1,000 worth of equipment.  Teachers loved him.  “The students just love him,” then-chair of microbiology Ann Morris-Hooke told a student reporter 14 years ago, “The students in his class are just crazy about him.”

“We have lost a great teacher, scientist, colleague and friend who deeply cared about teaching and education at all levels,” said Luis Actis, current chair of microbiology.  “One of our former graduate students wrote yesterday: ‘I am fortunate to have known this dynamic man. My favorite memory: At the end of every single seminar, him raising his hands and saying that he had two questions! And they were almost always thought provoking and insightful.’”

Considered a pioneer in yeast genetics research, in 1982 he led scientific symposia in France and Japan.  His lab generally included doctoral, master’s and undergraduate students. His research led to more than 40 publications in books and journals.  In recent years he wrote or co-authored op-eds for local newspapers, educating the public on topics of stem cell research, evolution, DNA sequencing and the overuse of antibiotics.

“Dr. B.,” as many knew him, was also civically active. In 2005 he was awarded the Lavatus Powell Community Builder Award for his service to Miami and Oxford. The honor goes to a person who is committed to the ideals of inclusion, community, diversity and service. Bhattacharjee had mentored numerous minority students over the years and at Miami was a member or officer on the President’s Council on Multicultural Affairs, President’s Task Force on Human Relations, University Senate, Graduate Council and many other committees. He also helped families on move-in day.

He was president of the Oxford Kiwanis Service Club, was president of the Oxford Community Foundation, served the Gandhi Family House for Homeless Mothers and coordinated the Gandhi food drive for the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati. He has also been active with the Talawanda gifted children’s program, Chicago-based Bangladesh Relief for Refugees, Talawanda Key Club, middle school Builders Club, Indian community in Cincinnati and other organizations. He has received the Kiwanis Hixon Award for outstanding service, Outstanding Circle K. Advisor of Ohio, the Mayor's proclamation and Oxford's Citizen of the Year, among other awards. He and his wife were honorary chairs for this year’s Oxford United Way campaign.

He had been a member of the Genetics Society of America, American Society for Microbiology, American Association for the Advancement of Science and Sigma Xi.  He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Bangladesh and his doctorate at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Bhattacharjee is survived by his wife of 45 years, Tripti; his son Gourab of San Diego, Calif.; and his daughter Mala of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Visitation is scheduled 4-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at Ogle & Paul R. Young Funeral Home, Oxford. Hindu services (open to all) will be 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11 at Gwen Mooney Funeral Home, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Cincinnati. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in J.K.'s memory to the Jnanendra & Tripti Bhattacharjee Fund at the Oxford Community Foundation. This fund provides financial support towards the education of needy children living in the Talawanda School District. Donations can be sent to the Oxford Community Foundation, 22 E. High St., Oxford, OH 45056 or online at oxfordfdn.org.