Remembering biology professor Angelika Amon

Amon conducted groundbreaking research in chromosome imbalance, cancer, aging

Angelika Amon, professor of biology, died Oct. 29 at the age of 53 after a two-and-a-half year battle with ovarian cancer. Amon is remembered for her pioneering research in chromosome imbalance and cell division, as well as her courage, passion, and enthusiasm for science. 

Amon earned her undergraduate and doctorate degrees from the University of Vienna and became a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Whitehead Institute in 1994, where she was supervised by biology professor Ruth Lehmann. She joined the biology department faculty in 1999 and was also a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. 

Amon conducted research in aneuploidy, chromosome copy imbalances in cells that can lead to conditions such as Down Syndrome. Her lab also researched the effects of aneuploidy and cell growth and division on aging and cancer.

Amon mentored over 80 undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers during her 20 years as an MIT professor, according to MIT News. She was awarded the School of Science’s Undergraduate Teaching Prize in the 2006–2007 academic year. 

Amon has taught 7.013 and 7.016 (Introductory Biology), 7.06 (Cell Biology), and 7.52 (Genetics for Graduate Students).

President L. Rafael Reif wrote in an email to the MIT community that Amon “built an extraordinary career — and in the process, a devoted community of colleagues, students and friends. Famously generous with her time and ideas, she counted herself fortunate to have had exceptional mentors and so made it a point to develop rising researchers herself. Impatient with injustice, she spoke out fearlessly for the equality and rights of women and minorities in science and society.”

Lehmann, now the director of the Whitehead Institute, told MIT News that Amon “was an inspiring leader, not only by her trailblazing science but also by her fearlessness to call out sexism and other -isms in our community. Her captivating laugh and unwavering mentorship and guidance will be missed by students and faculty alike. MIT and the science community have lost an exemplary leader, mentor, friend, and mensch.”

“Angelika was an amazing, energetic, passionate, and creative scientist, an outstanding mentor to many, and an excellent teacher,” biology department head Alan Grossman told MIT News. 

Many MIT community members have shared their memories of Amon on a PostHope page

Leslie Lai ’03 wrote that Amon was her undergraduate advisor. “Angelika made my life at MIT so much brighter and fun with her cheerful spirit, witty sense of humor, and that famous laugh of hers,” she wrote. “Angelika had that rare combination of intelligence, warmth, empathy, integrity, sense of justice, and fearlessness, and I feel so lucky to have been in her presence for those few years.”

Christina Ji ’19 wrote that she did research in Amon’s lab as an undergraduate. “She gave me the opportunity to learn how to run biology experiments with mouse models — a dream I'd had since high school. Her passion for science was readily apparent — when she announced she was just awarded a major grant, her immediate reaction was that she could work in the lab the next year!”

Alexandra de Rosa ’13 also worked in Amon’s lab as an undergraduate. “Angelika's enthusiasm was always contagious — for science, for students, for life,” she wrote. “Her passion and joy have influenced so many, and she was truly a guiding light paving the way, strides ahead. She will be missed and remembered as an extraordinary scientist, inspiring mentor, and strong woman.”

Julian Lange PhD ’08 wrote that Amon “has been a mentor, advisor, and friend since 2000, when I started graduate school at MIT. In sharing her enthusiasm and kindness and scientific curiosity and inspiring drive with everyone around her, Angelika touched our lives in so many positive ways. On numerous instances, hearing her voice and her laugh — as she approached a conference room or meeting hall or lab I was in — put a smile on my face and in my heart.”

Zach Crook PhD ’13 was a teaching assistant for Amon during graduate school. “She taught me so much about what it means to be both a great teacher, and a great scientist. Her love of life and of learning was infectious,” he wrote. “Her trainees, mentees, and students will do everything we can to carry on her scientific legacy.”

Former MIT President Susan Hockfield wrote that Amon “inspired, encouraged and perpetually surprised and amused me. I loved so much her outspoken, independent take on the world.” Hockfield wrote that she admired Amon’s “independent mind,” “integrity,” and “human compassion.” 

Computational biology professor Manolis Kellis PhD ’03 wrote that Amon was “a giant in the field of Biology, a close collaborator and friend, and an outstanding scientist and human being. She was always positive, full of enthusiasm and energy, rich with insights, and always brilliant… I hope her legacy will continue for many decades to come, and that her many trainees will carry her torch to new frontiers and many more generations of scientists after her.”