In Memoriam

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John Sheehan, PhD
The UNC community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. John Sheehan, Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UNC Chapel Hill and member of the UNC Cystic Fibrosis Center. Dr. Sheehan peacefully passed on February 4, 2013 in his home.

Dr. Sheehan was an extraordinary scientist. He received his Bachelors of Science in Physics from Leicester University in 1968, then proceeded to Bristol University for a Masters in Materials Science in 1969 as well as a doctorate in Biophysics in 1973. He led a distinguished research career working as a scientist at Purdue, Lund, Lancaster, and then Manchester University before joining UNC in 2002. At UNC, he spearheaded one of the top innate immunity laboratories in the U.S. and was already a well-known leader in his field and particularly in furthering research on cystic fibrosis.

During his time at UNC, his lab made important discoveries relating to the structure and organization of the mucosal surfaces of the human airways, particularly the tethered mucins comprising the glycocalyx and the polymeric mucins of the mucus gel. He was well published in top tier research journals and maintained his research funding throughout his tenure at UNC.

Dr. Sheehan had an active mind and imagination. He was always open to new ideas and especially keen to apply new physically-based methodologies  Over his career, he pioneered the use of light scattering, electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, and the quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation to help resolve some the many complexities of his beloved molecules. Dr. Sheehan mentored more than a dozen students over the course of his career.  Located on multiple continents, several of these scientists are established leaders in the field and continue his legacy. Though he left us as a relatively young man, he fulfilled his dream of leaving his UNC colleagues ‘… in good mucus shape!’

Dr. Sheehan will be missed and his passing constitutes an enormous professional and personal loss to us. We send our condolences to his family and will remember his enthusiasm for science and life.