‘A deep thinker’: UC Berkeley molecular biologist emeritus Alexander Glazer dies at 86

photo of the late Alexander Glazer
UCNRS UCOP/Courtesy
Glazer is remembered by his community for his humor, generosity and mentorship, as well as his work, which included directing the University of California Natural Reserve System and a human genome research project focusing on DNA detection and sequencing, each for about a decade.

Known as a deep thinker, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of biochemistry and structural biology Alexander Glazer died at the age of 86 July 18.

Brilliance, excellence and intellect were just a few words used to describe Glazer’s character and his lasting impressions on the communities he touched. Alongside Glazer’s interest in environmental sciences, he spearheaded a decadelong human genome research project on DNA detection and sequencing, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ website.

His other work on protein chemistry and structure-function relationships shaped much of his research studies at UC Berkeley.

“Alex always thought outside the box; he was not narrow-minded at all,” said Mary Power, professor in the department of integrative biology. “He also cared a lot about Berkeley and was extremely generous.”

Apart from his work at UC Berkeley, Glazer served as the director of the University of California Natural Reserve System, or NRS, for 11 years. According to a NRS press release, Glazer helped rescue the organization from deep financial distress when he assumed leadership in 1998, developing a three-part plan for the NRS to help increase its visibility within the university.

However, Glazer’s work within the NRS was not just limited to being a director. From his droll sense of humor to his occasional use of “big SAT words,” Glazer became a leading example for staff members at the organization. His warm yet professional presence made him an admirable and inspirational figure for those around him.

“As highly accomplished as he was, I observed on many occasions where he worked to achieve a particular goal, that he was content not to receive any credit even if the goal was met,” said NRS legal and policy coordinator Violet Nakayama in an email. “He taught me that to be effective, sometimes it’s best not to leave any fingerprints. I learned so much from observing Alex analyze a problem and address it.”

Glazer was born in Poland, but grew up in Australia and attended, then graduated, from the University of Sydney. Later, inspired by a University of Utah lecturer during his time as a graduate student, he pursued and received his doctorate at the university. He first joined the faculty at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA before moving to UC Berkeley in 1976.

Glazer will be fondly remembered as a meticulous force in the NRS and within the UC Berkeley community. His foundational work with the NRS will be highly regarded for future generations to refine.

“Of the hundreds of truly great people who worked for and were involved with the NRS, Alex was surely the very best,” said retired director of the UC Riverside NRS Reserves John Rotenberry in an email.

Contact Ashley Tsai at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ashleyttsai.