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January 5, 2006

OBITUARY: Peter W. Land

Peter W. Land, associate professor of neurobiology who served on the training faculty of the Center for Neuroscience, died of a heart attack Dec. 13, 2005, while in a meeting on campus. He was 56.

The Chicago native, who earned a Ph.D. in anatomy in 1977 at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, came to Pitt in 1983 as assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

In 1988, Land was named associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Anatomy and Cell Science and in 1993 transferred to the Department of Neurobiology, where he served as associate professor.

Long-time research collaborator Daniel Simons described Land as “a colorful and talented individual with numerous and varied interests, including long-distance running, cooking, wine- and beer-making and sky-diving” as well as “an excellent neuro-anatomy instructor [who] received a number of honors and recognitions from the School of Medicine.”

Land suffered a serious accident while sky-diving in 1999, which resulted in the loss of a leg. “Following a remarkable recovery, he entered the most productive period of his scientific career,” Simons said.

Throughout his research career, Land investigated how the brain attains its complex structure and, related to that, how sensory activity influences the developing nervous system. His early work examined the connections from the eye to the brain.

Land authored or co-authored more than 60 publications. Among his early papers was a 1979 landmark study published in the journal Science, describing previously unrecognized patterns of early connections and novel ways in which projections from the two eyes interacted with each other.

For the past 20 years, Land continued to pursue his interests in sensory systems and neural development, focusing on the sense of touch, using rodents and their facial whiskers as the experimental model.

Working with Simons, Land discovered that brain development was altered permanently as a result of abnormal tactile experience produced simply by shaving the animal’s facial whiskers during brief periods of early postnatal life. That work led to a number of important studies by Land examining in detail the complex, three-dimensional geometry of the brain structures involved and how they developed.

More recently, Land had been investigating molecular mechanisms involved in zinc-dependent neuronal degeneration. In recognition of his contributions, the International Zinc Signals 2006 meeting in Tuscany, Italy, will be held in Land’s honor.

Prior to his Pitt career, Land was an instructor (1973-74) and then lecturer (1974-77) at the Illinois College of Podiatric Medicine, a senior fellow in biological structure at the University of Washington School of Medicine (1977-79) and an assistant professor in anatomy at the Medical University of South Carolina (1979-83).

Land held professional membership in the Society for Neuroscience and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also participated in more than a dozen national and international seminars and invited lectureships.

Land is survived by partner and co-worker Susan Erickson; son Joshua of Philadelphia and daughter Rebekah of Baltimore; father Donald; brothers Steven, Mark, Paul and Kurt; sister Rita McClean; also nieces and a nephew.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society in memory of Land’s mother, Rita Land.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 9

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