Monday, May 06, 2013

Adieu, François Jacob

François Jacob. Source:
François Jacob passed away on April 20, at the age of 92. He was one of the greatest biologists of the twentieth century and a very fine science writer. (Incidentally, my last post was about one of his latest books.) Excellent obituaries can be found online, including a nice piece written by Carl Zimmer.

Jacob's scientific merits are immense, but it is another aspect of his life that struck me when I discovered more about him in the days following his death. (I read the information below in the post by Zimmer and in an obituary by the French Ministry of Defense.)

In 1940, Jacob joined the French liberation army in England - he was only twenty. Since he was a medical student he served as a medic, participating to campaigns in African countries. Several times he brought back wounded soldiers under enemy fire, and was wounded himself.

In 1944 he participated to the assault at Utah Beach in Normandy, and a week later he was severely wounded (his arm and his leg) while helping the injured. He was then evacuated to Paris, and was demobilized in 1945.

Jacob finished his medical studies after the war; he wanted to become a surgeon. His wounds, however, prevented him to do so and he turned to biology and research. Needless to say, François Jacob made the best (and more!) of this forced career reconversion. 

Jacob was not only a brilliant scientist, he was also a brave man who fought to free his country. May he rest in peace.

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