Obituary - Membrane biophysicist Paavo K. J. Kinnunen has passed away

On September 21, 2017, professor Paavo K. J. Kinnunen (1950-2017) passed away. Born on May 19, 1950, and trained as a medical doctor, Kinnunen obtained his PhD degree in bacteriology from Helsinki University in 1976. After a number of research positions in Finland and abroad, he was appointed full professor in medical biochemistry at University of Helsinki in 1996. He co-founded the company Kibron in 1994. He served as managing editor of the journal Chemistry and Physics of Lipids 2002-2007. He was elected member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in 2004. From 2010 he was a professor of technical physics at Aalto University in Helsinki. Four scientists who knew Paavo Kinnunen professionally as well as personally are writing the following words of memorial.

Peter Laggner (Austrian Academy of Science, Graz) writes:
We have been very close over the past two, three decades. Both scientifically with our joint interest in biophysics of lipids and membranes, where I and my colleagues have learned a lot from him (he inspired us in the field of programmed cell death, among others), and also privately with our common attraction to nature, hunting, sailing, and good humor. I strongly admired also Paavo’s entrepreneurship, not only in developing excellent surface balances for measuring thin films, but also successfully competing in industry, in times when such activities had still been suspect for an academic, at least in Europe. There, too, our biographies had many parallels. Many good ideas jumped up from leisurely conversations over a beer (or two), either in his island hideaway in Finland, in my hunting lodge in Austria, on a boat, or on one of the many conferences we jointly attended around the globe. His science and technology will continue to be with us. Thank you Paavo, for your friendship. I miss you.

Samuli O. H. Ollila (Universityof Helsinki) writes:
On the behalf of the previous group members and myself I would like to express that Paavo was a very inspiring teacher and had an extraordinary intuitionabout biomembranes. Combining his exceptionally wide knowledge about general biomedical literature and the deep understanding of biomembrane physics he was able to foresee the biological importance of, e.g., the cell membrane lateral heterogeneityand extended lipid conformations. He was also able to combine his intuition with scarce experimental data to give very detailed explanations for several phenomena in biomembranes, of which many have been later on been seen with computer simulations. He also successfully turned the results from basic scientific research into the commercial applications.

Martin Hof (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic) writes:
I have known and appreciated Paavo and his scientific contributions in lipid biophysics and biochemistry, and in fluorescence spectroscopy already for 30 years. However, it was in thelast decade that I have had the privilege to become closer to Paavo. Scientifically, Paavo got me interested in oxidizedphospholipids. He was the first one to show, by biophysical experiments, that the sn-2 acyl chains of lipids would reverse their direction as a consequence of oxidation, and would accommodate the oxidized polar terminus of the chain in the vicinity of the lipid head groups. Paavo predicted the consequences of chain reversal for pathological conditions, such as atherosclerosis, inflammation, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. It was this unique combination in Paavo’s scientificapproachthat fascinated me: He thoroughly interpreted seemingly rather unspectacular biophysical experiments and could conclude from them consequences for molecular physiology and pathology. In many mutual visits in Prague or in Helsinki, I became personally close to him. Although having been one of the most famous lipid biophysicists ,Paavo KJ Kinnunen remained a very modest man who appreciated humility and honesty and had a very extensive social attitude. I am grateful for the time Paavo spent with me!

Ole G. Mouritsen (University of Copenhagen) writes:
I have known Paavo for 27 years and already at our first encounter he struck me as an unusual full-blooded scientist and a real scholar who had a deep and genuine interest in fundamental science and how it could be applied to technology and medicine. Being trained as a medical doctor, Paavo kept a life-long interest in medical problems and at the same time had a great appetite for the quantitative physical sciences, theoretically as well as experimentally. This unique combination of interests and skills made his scientific discoveries go very far, in particular in relation to a deeper understanding of the functional role of lipids in membranes and cellular systems. Paavo stayed out of mainstream research, developed and followed his own ideas and approaches, and published several seminal and original papers. Paavo always kept an open eye to young scientific talents and never compromised his scientific integrity by striving for high office. His legacy will remain not only with his scientific achievements but also with the many young scientists he trained and inspired, and who became international leaders in their fields.