Lawrence Baruch Cohen, 83, passed away April 19, 2023, in Providence, R.I., following an automobile accident. He was born in Indianapolis on June 18, 1939, to Gabriel and Helen (Aronovitz) Cohen and grew up attending Congregation Beth-El Zedeck on Ruckle Street. Larry graduated from Broad Ripple High School in 1957, the University of Chicago in 1961, and obtained his PhD in Zoology from Columbia University in 1966.
Larry pioneered methods of exploring Neuroscience and Cell Physiology using various dyes to show changes in neurologic activity. He started his research as a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory at the University of Cambridge. For the next 55 years he made groundbreaking discoveries in his field while working in his labs at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., where he spent numerous summers, and in Seoul, Korea.
From the early measurement of membrane potential using dyes in Larry's lab, he progressed to the study of the central nervous system. He started with investigations of the ganglions of squid and barnacles and advanced to investigating the mammalian central nervous system. Larry's technology enables exploration of neural transmission in mammalian retinas and hearts.
The tantalizing metaphor popularized by Sherrington: "The enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern, though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns" drove scientists, led by Larry and his colleagues to learn more about the brain, that "great raveled knot." The exploration of the central nervous system, much abetted by Larry's optical dye methods, is barely in its infancy. Already many new observations have been reported, with many more to come all due to Larry's pioneering and fruitful work.
More personally Larry had a remarkable quickness of mind and analytic ability. This was often belied by his slowness of speech, which usually reflected consideration and caution. He also evinced an unusual talent for recognizing important outstanding problems in his area of interest, and in other areas as well. As a result, he was usually far in advance of his field, as had been the case with his dye indicators and encoded voltage sensors.
The following link is a 15 minute video interview with Larry from 2015 describing what, why and how he did his research: history.archives.mbl.edu/browse/video-audio/lawrence-cohen
Despite his numerous achievements and his distinction, Larry remained a thoroughly modest and unassuming man. He was also an exceptional mentor to scores of students, postdocs and collaborators, many of whom went on to distinguished careers in areas related to light and imaging.
For nearly a half century he remained a welcoming, humble and very social character – opening his home to many friends and colleagues, in New Haven as well as Woods Hole. The parties at his house brought together so many scientists from all over the world; many friendships were formed across fields, continents and generations of researchers. His jokes were legendary, as was his love of wine, cheese, popcorn, and Persian pistachios.
Larry is predeceased by his first wife Lorie (Fumel) Cohen whom he met at the University of Chicago and is survived by their two sons, Daniel and Avrum; grandsons Zev, Samuel and Jason; daughter Lily by his second wife Barbara Ehrlich; brothers Teddy and Benzion, sisters Miriam, Debbie, Jennie, Hermine, and Rena, and numerous nieces and nephews and their children. For as long as he lived, he remained a father figure for his seven younger siblings, their children and grandchildren.
A graveside service was held in the Adath Jeshurun Cemetery in Louisville, Ky., on April 26th where he is buried near his parents, his paternal grandparents, Isaac and Jennie Cohen, his uncle and aunt, Banis and Rose Cohen and his cousin, Dr. Burton J. Cohen. Donations in his memory may be made to Just Vision or Kentucky Natural Lands Trust. Arrangements entrusted to Aaron Ruben Nelson Mortuary.
A good portion of this obituary was written by his colleague and friend Brian Salzberg.
To send flowers
to the family or plant a tree
in memory of Lawrence Baruch Cohen, please visit our floral store.