In memoriam: David Yue, MD, PhD
David Yue, who died suddenly of cardiac arrest Dec. 23, 2014, engaged with joy and passion in every avenue of his life, from personal to professional to spiritual. Professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience, co-director of the PhD program in biomedical engineering and director of the Calcium Signals Laboratory, he earned wide acclaim for his teaching and research.
Since joining the Department of Biomedical Engineering in 1988, Yue was recognized as a world leader in the field of ion channel biophysics and helped define the field of calcium and calmodulin regulation of ion channels. His Calcium Signals Lab is pushing the frontiers of Ca2+ signaling research, combining chemical biology, FRET imaging of genetically encoded optical sensors, high-resolution electrophysiology and computational biology. His research team discovered how the calcium sensor protein calmodulin regulates ion channels in the heart, brain, and muscle.
“Dr. Yue was an extraordinary scientist and a beloved teacher and mentor,” says Gordon Tomaselli, professor of medicine and chief of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Division of Cardiology. “He instilled in his students and colleagues the wonder and privilege of scientific discovery. His work has profound implications for understanding everything from cognition to exercise to control of the heartbeat.”
Among many honors, Yue received the 2011 Kenneth S. Cole Award from the Membrane Biophysics Subgroup of the Biophysical Society for his contributions to the field of cellular electrical signaling, the NIH/NHLBI MERIT award for Calmodulin/Ca channel physiology in heart, 2004–2014, and the Hopkins Excellence in Teaching Award from the Whiting School of Engineering in 2009. “He transforms his lectures into something like a thriller movie — you don’t want to miss a second of it. His lectures are 90-minute marvels covering the history, mechanisms, and applications of ion channel study. The material excites him so much that it excites all of us,” said one student, in a 2009 article in the Gazette about the award.
Yue often sprinkled his lectures with vivid and entertaining analogies and parables to help students grasp and remember complex subjects. Examples range from a fantasy about killing an evil roommate in a bathtub of double distilled water to illustrate ion permeation, to roach motels — “you can check in but you can’t check out” — to illustrate transition state theory, to an imagined scene between Bruce Lee and a broken-beer-bottle-wielding enemy to illustrate patch clamping.
“Every so often, the veil of confusing experimental results is parted, and something deep and beautiful about how biological life works is revealed. It is as if a syllable that God spoke becomes suddenly audible. The thrill of unearthing such ‘God speak’ is one of the special rewards of my profession.” – DAVID YUE