Obituary: Professor Michael Laverack
Friday 30 July 1993
MICHAEL LAVERACK, the zoologist and marine biologist, was killed with his wife, Maureen, in a helicopter accident off the Queensland coast of Australia. They were travelling to Heron Island research station on the Great Barrier Reef on a research trip.
Mike Laverack resigned from his professorship at St Andrews University in 1991, after a 31-year career in teaching and research there. Throughout his professional life he had taken particular pride and enthusiasm in his teaching and was exceptional amongst physiologists in being extremely widely read and well-informed about the taxonomy and general biology of invertebrate animals.
Laverack's research interests lay primarily in the sensory physiology of crustaceans and it was this topic which he was pursuing during his tenure of the prestigious Australian Senior Research Fellowship (based at the Zoology Department at University of Melbourne), to which he was appointed in 1991. His research speciality was lobsters and related species and his fellowship offered him the opportunity for investigating aspects of the sensory physiology of a wide range of crustacean species throughout temperate and tropical Australia.
Born in Croydon in 1931, Mike Laverack attended Selhurst Grammar School for Boys, having spent much of the war years, first being evacuated, then subjected to the bombardment of V1 and V2 rockets. After leaving school in 1949 he spent the next two years as a National Serviceman in the RAF. He was among the first group of graduates of Southampton University and took the very first First Class degree in Zoology from that university in 1955. He was particularly influenced by Professor JEG Raymond in Marine Biology and by Dr (later Professor) GA Kerkut and by Professor KA Munday in the sub-department of Physiology and Biochemistry at Southampton. His PhD thesis (awarded in 1959) concerned the respiration of the snail Helix and was supervised by Kerkut.
After taking his PhD he was appointed Scientific Officer of the Nature Conservancy at Merlewood Research Station, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria. That post involved a study of the sensory physiology of earthworms and culminated in his first book, The Physiology of Earthworms (1963), which has become something of a classic in the field, and is still heavily cited.
Laverack was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Zoology at St Andrews University in 1960, occupying a staff job vacated by JM Dodd, who had himself moved to Leeds University as Professor of Zoology. During the 1960s the university's Gatty Marine Laboratory developed an international reputation for invertebrate neurobiology, due to the distinguished work of Laverack, Adrian Horridge and Malcolm Burrows (now a professor at Cambridge). When Horridge left to take the Foundation Chair at the Australian National University at Canberra, Laverack was elected to the Chair of Marine Biology in 1969. He became Director of the Gatty Marine Laboratory in the same year, a post he held until 1985. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1972.
Throughout Laverack's directorship, the Gatty Marine Laboratory continued to be occupied by staff from the Departments of Botany, Zoology, and Physiology. Eventually, demands grew for a full-scale Honours degree course in Marine Biology, and Laverack took on the task of forming the Department of Marine Biology with Chris Todd in 1979. Today, Marine and Environmental Biology is one of the most popular courses and it is to Laverack's credit that this course continues, in the School of Biological and Medical Sciences, to be highly successful and attractive to undergraduate students in the 1990s. He taught at summer schools and as a visiting lecturer at many universities and marine laboratories in North America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Persian Gulf and co- authored two successful undergraduate teaching texts, as well as numerous research papers. His Lecture Notes in Invertebrate Zoology (with J Dando, 1974) has been translated into Japanese and Arabic and is used worldwide. He was an excellent undergraduate teacher who influenced many biologists now working at institutes throughout the world.
As a colleague he will be missed for his integrity, honesty and loyalty and his lively personality. He was well read in literature and was a keen follower of music and sport. His main hobby - which he extended to aspects of his research - was photography. Maureen, was a talented artist, and Mike himself latterly developed a keen interest in pictorial art through silk-screen printing. As a scientist he was also acutely aware of the history and development of science and of the personalities that lay behind the names of authors. The history of the St Andrews University Gatty Marine Laboratory, which celebrates its centenary in 1995, was an abiding passion. His family home in Boarhills, Fife, has been retained since the start of his fellowship abroad and he regularly returned to St Andrews throughout his time in Australia.
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