Barry Jacobs 3 Replies Barry Jacobs, professor of psychology and neuroscience, emeritus, died Jan. 10, 2020
I met Barry in our first year of graduate school at UCLA in 1966. He and I were in what was at that time (and may still be) the largest group of students, a total of 9, who intended to focus on what was then called physiological psychology (and would now be called neuroscience). I was immediately impressed with Barry’s keen intellect and his very high level of energy. In graduate school, the rest of us were amazed at the notes that Barry took during class or while reading books or articles. They were unbelievably readable and well-organized, and difficult concepts were re-written to be totally comprehensible.
Barry and I became immediate friends because we had so much in common. We both came from working class families, we both loved to play ping pong, and we wouldn’t miss a UCLA varsity basketball game, which we often attended together. We loved to discuss issues in the developing field of neuroscience, especially the functions of the recently discovered systems of neurons in the brain that used particular neurotransmitters, especially those that used dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. We had many opportunities to “talk science,” because we took virtually all of the same courses together and we prepared for the same major examinations by reading very large numbers of basic science articles. We also did a few studies together in graduate school, some of which were published. I was extremely impressed by Barry’s ability to master the literature in whichever field he focused upon and to come up with excellent experiments to try to test hypotheses he felt would further our understanding in the area. He was especially good at designing “controls” that would allow for alternative hypotheses to be eliminated.
Because of Barry’s high level of energy and facil mind, he was always viewed as a leader by his fellow graduate students and by faculty members. It did not surprise me when he was hired by Princeton in 1971, and it was not surprising that his colleagues at Princeton judged his research to be of very high caliber, appropriate for the granting of tenure and ultimately for promotion to full professor. Barry and I remained good friends after he moved on to his career at Princeton, and because I was so impressed with his scientific acumen, I recommended to some of my very best students at Amherst College that they pursue graduate research in neuroscience under Barry’s tutelage. I would not have done this if Barry also were not a wonderful person, who would keep his students’ welfare uppermost in his thinking.
One of the things that I think makes Barry really unusual, at least among the men I know, is that he was extremely focused on staying in touch. He even had grade school friends that he still kept in touch with. He loved to organize events that would bring friends together. So, for example, he organized a trip to the Virgin Islands for six couples where each couple had their own bedroom. As I recall, the house we rented had previously been used by a member of the Kennedy clan. This event was truly memorable. We stayed for about a week, and by the end had really bonded as a group. Another time Barry organized a trip to Scotland. He and I and two other neuroscientists were to go and play some of the great courses there, the old course at St. Andrews and Carnoustie, among them. As it turned out, Barry and the other two gave talks at St. Andrews on the only day that St. Andrews was available. I was the only person to be able to play. Barry of course was disappointed in not being able to play, but he was delighted that I had had a chance to play.
No reflection on Barry would be complete if it did not include a word or two about his sense of humor. This was another thing about him that pulled me toward him in graduate school, and I always appreciated as we got older. He loved to point out what most people did not see about language constructions that he found funny. Often the language constructions would be regional. For example, we had a fellow graduate student from Texas who once said, in response to a question about what he was doing sitting alone in a restaurant, “oh, I’m just sitting here waiting on my buddy.” Barry found this to be hysterical and pointed out that he hoped his friend wouldn’t be injured by his weight. Barry was also amused by some of his own language. For example, when he talked about standing in a line, such as to be a ticket to some event, he would say he was “waiting on line.” He realized that most people say they were “waiting in line.” I found it quite sad and ironic when Barry lost his extraordinary language ability after he suffered his first stroke. I only hope that he did not realize what he had lost.
Dr Jacobs (Barry) was my academic advisor- I was an undergraduate majoring in physiological psychology which is now neuroscience. He welcomed me to his lab, which was like a family, and encouraged me to think about the projects we were doing and the science in general.
I took skills that I learned from Barry (esp electrophysiology) , and my love of neuroscience, and became a physician- scientist. I still do research- in a different part of the nervous system- and am so grateful for the opportunity he gave me.
As a postdoc in Byron Campbell’s lab, I interacted with Barry and his postdocs over a period of 4-5 years. He was indeed a great mentor and finally friend.