In remembrance of Suzanne Eaton

Suzanne Eaton, former EMBL staff scientist from 1993–2001. PHOTO: EMBL
Suzanne Eaton, former EMBL staff scientist from 1993–2001. PHOTO: EMBL

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The life science community is deeply saddened by the death of Suzanne Eaton

It is with enormous shock and sadness that we share the news of the death of EMBL alumna Suzanne Eaton, who went missing on the Greek island of Crete on 2 July, and tragically died as a consequence of a criminal act, which is currently under investigation.

Suzanne was a staff scientist at EMBL from 1993–2001. She was one of the founding group leaders at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, and professor at the Biotechnology Center (BIOTEC) at TU Dresden.

The EMBL community is in shock and mourning. We have lost an incredible friend and colleague and an outstanding scientist.

Suzanne is survived by two sons and by her husband, Tony Hyman, former EMBL group leader in the Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit from 1992–2000, and now a Max Planck Director at the MPI-CBG. Our thoughts are with Tony and his family for their terrible loss.

Edith Heard

On behalf of EMBL Faculty

 

The EMBL community share their tributes

Eileen Furlong; head of Unit and group leader, Heidelberg

This is so sad and shocking, it’s beyond belief. We have all been thinking of nothing else but Suzanne during the past week. She will be remembered by colleagues at EMBL, and also by the entire international Drosophila community, as a wonderful person and scientist. The angle to her research was always unique, well thought through and always interesting, which sums up her personality. The shock and impact of the loss just hasn’t sunk in.

 

Stefano De Renzis; group leader, Heidelberg

Suzanne was an outstanding scientist who has contributed key discoveries in developmental biology, ranging from mechanisms of morphogen transport to the cell biological and physical laws controlling tissue morphogenesis. Suzanne was ahead of her time, pioneering the merging of the cell and developmental biology fields. I still have a vivid memory of my predoc interview with her. Suzanne had just started her lab, which although still empty was filled with passion. This became particularly evident when Suzanne started explaining her vision of using the developing wing epithelium of the fruit fly as a model system to study the cell biological mechanisms driving morphogenesis. I remember our predoc interview schedule got quite delayed, but none of the other recruiting group leaders seemed to be surprised – they knew Suzanne.

At the time, I didn’t think the projects Suzanne had described to me were feasible. Little did I know that 10 years later I would end up working on some of the questions we had discussed. Suzanne was an inspiring leader, a wonderful person and – even if she was famous for not responding to emails too quickly – when you talked to her in person she would immediately engage, listen to you, and suggest intelligent and original experiments. At seminars she would be the first to ask questions, usually starting with: “So…you’re saying…but then how…?”

Suzanne was not only an outstanding scientist but also a fun person to interact with. At meeting parties she was the first one to start dancing and would stop only at the very end by saying: “Oh, this was fun!” We will terribly miss Suzanne and her leadership.

 

Kai Simons; former head of Unit and group leader, Heidelberg

Suzanne came to my lab when she and her husband, Tony Hyman, moved to Heidelberg and to EMBL. She wanted to learn epithelial cell biology, and I was thrilled to get such a talented scientist to join the group. Suzanne dutifully started a project that I thought would be a good way to enter the field, but soon she took over and designed a project of her own. This gave her a flying start in mingling cell biological approaches into research on her favourite organ, the Drosophila wing disc.

Soon we all moved to Dresden to build up the MPI-CBG. It was then that Suzanne really took the lead. She was the one who realised our ambitious mission of finding out how cells form tissues. We wanted to combine cell biology, developmental biology, and physics, and Suzanne became our pathfinder. Who else had the depth of knowledge that was required for this Herculean task? Suzanne was in her own league. Her research on how morphogens, metabolism, and mechanics interact to drive morphogenesis moved her into the global elite of this distinguished field.

Suzanne was indeed a remarkable person. One could say that she represented a modern Renaissance scientist in the sheer scope of her activities. She was a wife, a mother, a musician. She loved sports, culture, and above all science. Science was her passion. Her all-round personality made her a master in connecting facts and findings in separate fields to come up with startling explanations. And she had an overwhelming enthusiasm that made the impossible possible. When she said, “Wow, this is so interesting!”, she really meant it. And she did that often!

Wasn’t it amazing how Suzanne could ask questions at seminars – at any seminar? She could ask questions on any subject matter, and – more importantly – these were questions that you could see the speaker was also amazed at. She hit the nail with her incisive remarks!

As her mentor, I learned a lot from her myself. I was always struck by her passion, not only for science but also for supporting the scientists around her. When there were problems, she always tried to emphasise the positive aspects and she really wanted to help!

Suzanne has been an outstanding role model for our whole community. Both her way of doing research and her compassion for others have been inspiring. Remembering these qualities will be more important than ever in these troubling times. We miss her.

 

Gareth Griffiths; Chair of the EMBL Alumni Association and former group leader, Heidelberg

This has been a devastating week; a week many of us will never forget. First, the disturbing news that Suzanne Eaton had gone missing and then the terrible realisation that she was gone forever, her life violently taken from her. A huge tragedy that occurred when she was in the prime of a successful scientific career and enjoying a beautiful family life. I knew her from the time she was first a postdoc (1993–1997) and for the following three years as a staff scientist at EMBL Heidelberg. Always with a smile on her face, invariably in a good mood, she was a person I remember warmly as a team player; generous and kind. It is with a heavy heart that I pass on our sincerest condolences on behalf of the EMBL alumni to her family, especially to Tony, Max, and Luke, who will find it so hard to continue after this unbearable loss.