From Mark Tuckerman. Chair - Note to members of NYU Chemistry
It is with tremendous sadness that I bring you the news that our distinguished colleague and friend, Professor Ned Seeman passed away last night after a long and difficult struggle with various health issues. Ned had been an active faculty member in our department since 1988, and it is difficult to overestimate the impact that his research program has had since he introduced the concept of DNA nanotechnology. One only needs to look at the long list of distinguished awards and accolades Ned received over the course of his career. Ned will be sorely missed. I know that many of you had ongoing collaborations with Ned, and beyond his science, he was always a tremendous advocate for our students and postdocs, and not just those working in his lab. When I first arrived at NYU, Ned was our DGS, and I will never forget the long graduate admissions meetings in his office (Jim and I were in some of these together). When I first became DGS in 2003, it was Ned who taught me what that job really entailed. I will always remember Ned's advice and mentorship, and I will miss him greatly.
From Jim Canary
Ned was a mentor, colleague, collaborator, and close friend. It is hard to imagine this department, the field of DNA nanotechnology, or just life in general, without him. He made us better than we were! Never one to leave a party early, this has come too soon.
From Bobby Arora
Ned created the field of DNA Technology and watched it bloom. In doing so, he lived the dream of every academic scientist. Ned vigorously supported ideas he agreed with and vigorously offended everyone else. He was the type one went to battles with - and he sure battled many NYU bureaucrats over the years. As he might have said about himself: “May he not f^#% the chicken in his after life!”
From Dirk Trauner
I only got a comparatively small dose of Ned but it was more than memorable. His wit and wisdom will be sorely missed. My favorite quote stems from a Bürgenstock conference: “No crystals - no crystal structure - no crystallographer”. Everything else cannot be put in writing.
From Julie Kaplan
Whether in my office surrounded by the art he loved, or in his own, surrounded by the molecules and books and clutter he loved, or in a cozy booth at Knickerbocker with the sustenance he loved.... Ned and I always had stimulating talks and huge laughs. He could be as sincere as he was irreverent, and as sweet as he was gruff. We shared a love for literature, movies and the theater, and I forgave him for his self-proclaimed lack of the music gene. Mostly, we like to shout about politics and shared a love of BAD puns, as did many of his other buddies. Ned may have founded the field of DNA Nanotechnology and been a genius (blah blah blah), but he was also a great guy. I am sorry he left before Facebook became a Meta, so I could ask "What's a meta?" and he could reply "Nothing. What's a meta with you?"
From James Devitt
I remember when Ned got the Kavli. I had to direct him to the Silver Center, where the ceremony was--he had no idea of its location. Anyway, afterwards (he found it, by the way), I'm walking out of the building with him. He's just gotten this huge award and big ceremony, not to mention a bunch of cash...so as we separate he says, "Well, now I've got to go pick up my laundry." And off he went.
From Tamar Schlick
The past 20 months have been difficult, with so many illnesses and deaths caused or accelerated by the pandemic, but it’s heartbreaking that Ned was among them. He fought so hard during the past few years as he faced various health issues, but even in the darkest moments he always brought back his focus to the work he loved. I just can’t imagine our Silver building corridors, faculty meetings, and all that enlightening e-mail traffic without his witty, sharp and unsparingly honest voice.
Ned’s genius was well recognized. His pioneering research in DNA nanotechnology reflects a successful marriage of his unique creativity and superb grounding in the physical and mathematical sciences. From M.C. Escher to DNA knots to robots and medical applications, his vision was broad while his craft was meticulous.
In addition to his vast scholarship, Ned’s directness and courage were a breath of fresh in an increasingly bureaucratic world. He saw through leaders with hidden or unfair agendas, be they on our campus or in Washington D.C. He had no problem telling them what he thought and never considered any possible consequence.
Ned was knowledgeable and happy to discuss politics, literature, art and theater anytime. He was not swayed by trends of the moment or fancy talk. I admired his honesty and intelligence. Most of all, I was touched by the sweet person he was under his gruff exterior.
As I think back on so many years of us as colleagues and friends, I recall many great talks about our shared interest in DNA topology, Greenwich Village walks, afternoon coffees, and arguments or discussion about plays and books. Ned was full of life and ambition, and always knew where he was going. I hope he is making a ruckus where is he is now, and continuing to pour his wisdom, wit, and heart to his new neighbors.
From James Eastwood
What a loss! The opportunity to take Prof. Seeman's course was an unexpected highlight of my graduate school experience. I remember him once pausing his lecture to yell, in his gruffest demeanor, at a noisy group of students congregating in the hall. Then he meandered back to the front of the classroom muttering, "I don't like to be the asshole, but sometimes I have to be the asshole." His legendary vision that created a new field from his desire not to have to perform repetitive, mystifying, low-success-rate experiments has been an inspiration to me and, I'm sure, many other NYU Chemistry graduate students. He will always be a part of the legacy of our department.
From Yanfeng (Felix) Yang
I am in my terrible grief and remorse here with the sad news of passing away of Prof. Ned C. Seeman. I was basically his last year of Master Student joined in 2018 and graduated in summer of 2020 during COVID. After that, Prof. Seeman was basically out of his office completely under medical care because of his spine injury. I am really really saddened by this terrible news. I still have his reply from last Christmas for a good holiday. But this year I can’t say that anymore! He was such a kind and caring PI that does not do it in a usual way. He cared us student so much that he not only financially facilitated my study there at NYU, but also support me throughout my master’s thesis process and the defense at last. Just want to say: Rest In Peace, dear Prof. and Mr. Ned Seeman, live in another world without any mortal pain or struggle in a place he believed that belongs to him.
From Jiaqi Lu
It's so sad to hear this bad news. The field of DNA nanotech lost its founder forever. I had the pleasure to take Macromolecular Chemistry last year, it was Prof. Seeman who let us encounter DNA origami. May you Rest in Peace, Prof. Seeman, you and your contribution to this world will be remembered and cherished.
From Guanyu Lin
A great scientist and educator who thought DNA differently.
From one of the last graduate students of Ned who has no chance to be his PhD student.
(Masters degree from NYU in 2021, now a Ph.D candidate at Worcester Polytech)
From Feng Zhou
My name is Feng Zhou. I was a postdoc working with Ned from 6/30/2016 to 1/10/2021. I'm really saddened to hear Ned's pass away. I was talking with Ruojie about visiting Ned on Monday, but I'm sorry that it won't happen.
Ned was very strong, in my memory, in many ways. His strength in science vision, critical thinking, professorship development, paper writing and many other things always inspire me. Apart from that, he was also strong physically. Even though his health was not quite good since summer 2017, and the cough and back pain always bothered him. No matter what happened, I could still see him sitting in "his chair" and having pizza in his office during the group meeting.
Due to the back pain and the spine surgery, Ned didn't have a good balance and had some fells from time to time. But whenever he fell, he was the calm one and could always get back up after that. I remember that during the 2019 FNANO meeting at Utah, I was filling his ice bucket when he fell on the ground by the bed. I was really nervous, sweating all over and didn't know how to help him up. He directed me to the right position and cheered me to lift him up. Luckily there was thick rug on the floor and he didn't fell on to any hard corners. he was still able to talk with me normally and discussed about the old, black and white movies he liked afterwards. At last, I needed to get him another bucket of ice. What a tense memory. Lol.
He was always coughing due to the pneumonia he got back in 2017. He also fought against another pneumonia and covid back-to-back last year. I visited him with Yoel Ohayon and Xinyu Wang on 03/02/2020. I can share the photo we took together if that's OK. He was talking with us for hours about the new thriller novel he was reading on his Kindle, how to determine the test samples quality, and the democratic primary back that time. As we all know he get through both of the diseases. His smile and spirit always cheered me through that difficult time.
When I look back, he has defeated pneumonia, back pain, diabetes and COVID. Although it's difficult to accept Ned is no longer with us, I'm relived to know that he no longer suffers pain from his illness. I believe that he will still be the Strong Ned in the heaven.
From Phil Lukeman
As others have noted, Ned has left an awe-inspiring legacy of science and scientists. He was a true humanist, a genuine polymath, and he used his sharp and profane wit to great effect. Like many of you, I am beyond grateful and privileged to have worked with him, to have learned from him and to have known him.
In the UK, tradition holds that a family or dynasty has a coat of arms: this has symbols representing the family’s glory as well as a motto. So we made him (a rather crudely drawn) Seeman coat-of-arms in 2004, which still hangs in his office today.
The central symbol was obvious; the J1 junction. But the motto? Lots of crests center around words like ‘discovery’, ‘truth’ or ‘justice’. In his life and science, Ned really lived those virtues! But how can I put it, in 2004, a….. saltier motto that utilized one of his more famous phrases[1,2], which seemed much more appropriate. I enclose it today, in his memory.
 See. translate.google.com
 and ISBN 0 7156 1648 X
From Xiaoping Yang
Ned, my dearest mentor, personal and family friend, where do I mail your birthday wine this year? Does heaven have a mailing address? Why do you leave us in a hurry? I guess God is setting up a DNA Nanotechnology lab and needs the best to run it.
To God, in order to make Ned happy, you’d better to know Ned well: Ned works from noon to midnight; Ned breakfasts with bagel/cream cheese and coffee; Ned’s lunch hour is 6pm, local time; Ned knows everything about New York City - he knows which subway entrance/exit to take for the most efficient way to get to a destination, and he knows all Chinese restaurant menus better than most Chinese does, and by the way, Ned never cooked; Ned was a Yankees fan before becoming a Mets fan; Ned never owned a TV but he goes to theaters for movies; Ned is well read and often you see him carry a worn out book in his jeans back pocket; Ned solves New York Times crossword games every weekend; Ned actually does some lab work as he runs a DNA synthesizer and maintains a distill water system; Ned’s office has to have a big blackboard and is supplied with chalks of all colors; Ned never uses a calculator, as his brain is one, in fact, a very good one; Ned carries in his shirt pocket a few ink pens, of different colors, and always a pointer for presentations; Ned sets his office clock 5min faster so he is always a few minutes earlier to his appointments; Ned never sits on recommendation letters his students need; Ned cares and always sends a check to the name of every new born to his student families; Ned hosts a celebratory dinner whenever his student has defended his/her thesis; Ned is fair to his students and gives credit where credit is due; Ned is protective, and often over-protective to his people; Ned can be tough in pursuit of scientific truth, but was never harsh towards the frailties of others.
In addition, here are some helpful Seeman clan jargons: junction JY21, DX for double crossover, gel, kination, ligation, self assembly, AFM for atomic force microscopy, cold chase…
O, God, in Ned, you took the very best from us. Care for him and keep him in peace, then in no time you will have all those fancy nano-machines roaming about.
(Xiaoping Yang is Ned’s Ph.D student 1993-1998. He can be reached email@example.com)
From Jon Zubieta
I mourn the loss of a cherished friend of forty years. I first met Ned in 1977 when he interviewed for a position in the Biology Department at SUNY Albany. I was a struggling assistant professor who would persuade organic chemistry graduate students to moonlight on my inorganic chemistry projects. That meant coffee breaks in the organic laboratories where I was feeling sorry for myself when I am interrupted by a string of f-bombs. There appears a vision from a David Lodge novel: shaggy, unkempt dirty blonde hair and beard, white tie, black shirt, burgundy velour jacket, blue jeans, and sneakers. Who is this guy? Ned proceeds to bad mouth everything about his visit, finally asking “Are you the crystallography guy?”
This was the beginning of a life-long friendship, one that survived despite our fundamental philosophical differences. Ned was a man of the left, even a neo- Marxist; I am a disciple of Hayek. Ned was a doctrinaire atheist; I am culturally and by faith Catholic. He was a Yankee fan who became a Met fan; I was a Met fan who became a Yankee fan. He was an urban Chicago kid; I was an urban Brooklyn kid. But we both loved beer, mocking the establishment, and engaging in good-natured curmudgeonry. Another factor, which only Ned would apprehend, was that our birthdays were exactly out of phase: mine June 16, 1945; his December 16, 1945. This led to a routine of phone exchanges on those dates for nearly forty years.
Of course, one of Ned’s defining characteristics was his brilliance. He possessed a beautiful and unique mind that could produce startling insights. As crystallographers, we were both familiar with M. E. Escher’s work. One night over too many beers, we got onto the topic of his symmetry related works. I was most familiar with his classic renditions of the two dimensional space groups, but Ned unsurprisingly was thinking in three-dimensions. So he brought up Escher's woodcut "Depth" containing fish with a head and tail, two vertical fins and two horizontal fins (three orthogonal axes), making them topologically isomorphous with six junctions. He went on to describe the beginnings of his astonishing insight that branched DNA with directed “sticky-ends” could be exploited to assemble multiply-connected objects and periodic networks of DNA with precise structural features in two or three dimensions.
Soon after, Ned was off to Holland to learn to work with DNA in the laboratory. As I was in the midst of a life crisis at the time, I paid him a visit, so that we could hit the night life of Amsterdam (which proved singularly unexciting). The thing about Holland is that it is a swamp. In summer, the mosquitos are ubiquitous. And what mosquitos! These guys were the size of sparrows and voracious. Also, the room I stayed in had no air conditioning and no screens on the windows. The choice was sweltering or being lunch for the bugs. When I mentioned to Ned the next morning, he pointed out that I had not drunk sufficient beer before turning in. A high blood/alcohol level was all it took to solve that problem.
We are all familiar with Ned’s scientific accomplishments, but there was much more to his unique character. Ned was a keen observer of life and a trenchant commentator. He could turn a phrase or amuse by turning something on its head with puckish delight. One night after a long session of beer drinking, we decided to get a bite at a new place called Taco Pronto. After one bite, Ned says “This place should be called Procto Tonto.” That was apt, and the place did not last long.
Seriously, despite his often gruff demeanor, Ned possessed a kind soul. During my life crisis, he was a true friend who spent considerable time and effort guiding me through those troubled times. He was a devoted son, whose care for his mother was tender and touching. As a mentor, he was always supportive of colleagues and students and, when critical, his comments were generally well-founded and helpful.
We have lost a truly unique friend: a brilliant scientist who gave birth to a paradigm shift in chemical technology, a Rabelaisian wit who could enliven any gathering, a caring soul who touched so many lives. When God created Ned, He broke the mold. While Ned would likely mock me for bringing up the divine, I must observe that when Ned sat contemplating the symmetries of nature, he approached the numinous as closely as any of the great mystics.
I truly loved this mensch, and I will miss him.
From Arun Richard Chandreasekaran
Read Arun's tribute to Ned on his blog: https://www.arunrichard.com/blog/remembering-ned
From Xiang Gao
My Ph.D advisor, Ned Seeman, is one of the most honest people I have ever met. His honesty to his work, friends and family, is even more impressive than those pioneering and inspiring achievements in his research. Integrity and honesty are the simplest things in the world, while they are also the most difficult traits one can pursue and own.
As a mentor, he is strict with our research work and sometimes even yells at us, which I never feel offended. And in personal life, he is nice and willing to help his students and never sets hurdles for their life intentionally. Once he said to me in a group meeting, “when I was young, I worked more than 12 hours a day. For you, that could be 18 hours”. Thanks for those words, Ned, I’ll put that in mind when I am not working hard enough.
When he came to visit China, he was very sick due to some infection and I went to visit him in Nanjing and Shanghai, he was very glad. He is always glad to build intimate relationships with his students, aka his “children.”
Ned likes pizza and different kinds of snacks. I hope you can have that in heaven, as well as traveling to different places, enjoying the food and architecture, and doing the most innovative research there.
From Jeffrey Hyde, Ph.D 1981 Chemistry SUNY Albany
I am so sad to hear of Ned's recent passing. I was a PhD student in Chemistry at SUNY Albany under Professor Jon Zubieta and was fortunate to have Ned as a mentor during that time. My favorite memory of Ned involved him teaching me something, though at the time, I didn't know it. He was helping me with the solution of a crystal structure and it was late in the evening, around 11 pm. We both smoked at the time, Ned with a cigarette, me with a pipe. Through the haze of smoke we were looking at a model of the structure I had built, which was not working well with the data set I had gathered. Ned started laughing softly, and I asked "What's so funny"? He replied, "I was just thinking that you don't know that it doesn't get any better than this". As frustrated as I was at that moment, I thought he was crazy. It took some years for me to realize he was right. The time I spent with him, Jon Zubieta, Ken Karlin (now at Johns Hopkins) and fellow students was some of the best times of my life. Ned was one of a kind and I treasure many memories of him.
From Prof. Paul Wrede, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
It was with great sadness that I learned of Ned's unexpected death. Ned meant a lot to me, I met him as a young post-doc in February 1977 at MIT in Alex Rich's lab. We got along well and designed and carried out original experiments on RNA. Ned was not only a brilliant scientist, especially when it came to molecular structures, he was also very interested in the history of science and epistemology. Ned Seeman was a night owl, just like me, and at 10 o'clock at night we left his lab and discussed a lot in several of the bars in Greenwich Village. The choice of restaurants in South Manhattan is huge, so Ned asked: “Pick a country, pick an animal, pick a plant” then we went to Chinatown or the Italian quarter. I had a good friendship with Ned and also a love for the USA. We also met several times in Berlin, a city he was very fond of because, like New York, it has great scientific institutions and a huge variety of restaurants and pubs.
I miss him very much, he was an important part of my scientific life and always a good friend.
From Alexandra Hui Wang
As one of Ned’s graduate students from the early 1990’s, I witnessed the prelude and the juncture where Ned’s unique approach to DNA self-assembly was establishing itself as the foundation of DNA origami and DNA nanotechnology. Mainstream skepticism transitioned to excitement during that decade. It took years of resilient independent thinking and scholarship to succeed as an original and creative visionary: The self-assembled DNA scaffolds that Ned imagined, decades before others did, is now an actively growing science that impacts multiple fields. The world should always appreciate Ned for this remarkable and special contribution.
Ned was so much more than a visionary to his graduate students and post-docs, myself included. He was an exceptionally direct, unpretentious, and genuine human being. We never needed to second-guess his intentions or integrity. Many times over, Ned told me that his graduate students were his children. As such, I was a benefactor of how he nourished each’s potentials. There was no holding back in training us to be the quality scientists that we could be. He cared for and took care of his students. Similar to a parent, he did this even when he disagreed with our choices. I selected my first post-doc against his advice. When that choice proved to be a poor fit, he introduced me to an opportunity that eventually became my second post-doc; I later learnt from this post-doc advisor that Ned provided an unusually long and detailed multi-page letter of reference, to ensure the best possible fit. It was.
Since I left Ned’s lab, his research group grew large quickly. Yet, with so many students and post-docs, we touched base regularly every single year despite travels, sickness, and even hospitalization – until this year. I am still coming to the reality of his passing last month. It has been my fortune to be mentored and trained by this exceptional scientist and human being. As I progress in life and career, I come to increasingly appreciate what a rare gift this is. Ned’s legacy will live on.
From Bill Duax
Ned got his PhD in George Jeffrey’s Crystallography Department in Pittsburg where he worked with Helen Berman, Joel Sussman and Sung Ho Kim on the first structure of a naturally occurring dinucleoside phosphate. His focus on and fascination with DNA would become his signature and fill his rich full life. It lead him to post-doc in the highly volatile laboratory of Alex Rich who had alerted Watson and Crick to the hydrogen bonding patterns of the bases in DNA and had discovered Z-DNA. In the Rich lab Ned worked beside Alex McPherson, Fran Jarnik, Paula Fitzgerald and others. I was told of physical fights in the Rich lab at the time but recall no specific details.
Ned took his first academic position at the State University of NY in Albany (which he called Albania). Ned bought a house there that had been the residence of an elderly woman. When she died without heirs, Ned bought the house and all it’s contents including the fussy little doilies that were on all the furniture. My wife Caroline thought the world of Ned because he was brilliant, honest, earthy and unpretentious. When we visited him in Albany we stayed in a spare room in which the light fixtures no longer worked. We entered the room after dark and found the bed and dusted it off. When we woke in the morning light we found that plaster was missing from the ceiling over our heads and that the pillows and our faces were covered in black grime. Ned kept his garbage in the freezer to eliminate odor until he would remember to put it out for collection. There was nothing else in the freezer and not much in the fridge.
The scientific highlight in Albany was the annual DNA conference attended by most of the leaders in the field including Alex Rich, Zbyzek Otwinowski who collaborated with Paul Sigler on the TATA box structure, and Edward Trifonov who studied the evolution of the amino acid composition of proteins and their codons. Although we did no work in DNA at the time, we presented our studies of the evolution of steroid dehydrogenases. When Bobby Heuther and I presented a paper on the evolution of the Amino acids in the billion-year-old beta keto acyl carrier proteins family, Trifonov spent 2 hours comparing our results on codon use and evolution with his.
It was at these meetings that Ned founded the field of DNA nanotechnology. When he joined the Chemistry Department at NYU, Ned went on to design, synthesize and crystalize 2 and 3 dimensional atomic level DNA machines, to found the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation, and Engineering and to be awarded many national and international awards including the Kalvi prize in 2010
In his New York City apartment the rooms were wall-to-wall floor to ceiling books, and Ned went to a different restaurant almost every night. Once again there was nothing in the refrigerator and even the freezer was empty since he had no garbage. He did have a collection of dozens of different Single malt whiskeys, two glasses and a cat. The second glass was for a friend, not the cat. For the cat he had a 10-pound bag of cat food torn open on the kitchen table. One day when I visited him in New York when we entered the apartment and he turned on the light a dozen cock roaches scurried our of the cat food bag and down the table legs.
One day when Ned was about to leave town he found that his cat had died. He put the dead cat into the freezer. When later he told Tom Koetzle that the cat had died, Tom told Ned to bring the cat with him the next time he visited the Koetzles and they could bury the cat at their place. Before going to dinner with the woman he and his fiancé would have a single malt at his place. As they sat talking, his fiancé said she was going to get more ice for her drink. Ned jumped up to get the ice because he did not think she would understand why there was a dead cat in the freezer.
Ned was the most brilliant, remarkable, inventive and creative scientist it has ever been my privilege to know. I find myself thinking, ” I need to tell Ned” and then sadly realize that that is no longer possible. I will not forget him.
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