A farewell to Dr Thomas Knacker (* 29.04.1951 – † 30.10.2011): scientific contributions and personal memories
© Römbke et al.; licensee Springer. 2012
Received: 5 July 2012
Accepted: 15 July 2012
Published: 30 October 2012
On October 30, 2011 we lost Dr. Thomas Knacker, a much valued and loved colleague, research partner and friend. We deeply regret the loss of an internationally honoured ecotoxicologist. The colleagues and friends that wish to express their sorrow in this contribution include individuals from a variety of organisations and academic institutions in Europe and abroad.
Thomas Knacker: his Life and Career
Dr Jörg Römbke, Dr Anja Coors
Memories of Thomas Knacker as Scientist, Project Leader and Mentor
PD Dr Kathrin Fenner
I first got to know Thomas when he initiated discussions with several colleagues about submitting a proposal to the EU 6th framework program for what turned out to become the “ERAPharm” project. As a young postdoctoral researcher, this was the first time I was involved in such a large project, and from the very beginning I was impressed with the calm, but at the same time very decided manner with which Thomas moderated discussions amongst a bunch of preoccupied, too-busy-to-think scientists. Throughout the ERAPharm project, he would ask critical questions on all aspects of science, ranging from analytical chemistry to exposure modeling, and all the way to ecotoxicity testing and new conceptual approaches for risk assessment. While upon closer inspection his questions usually directly targeted the core problem, they were always posed in a very gentle way. I believe that all of us can remember Thomas sitting in his chair, in thinker pose, and asking: “Did I understand this right? You pointed out that…”.
As the project went on, it also became clear that he was strategically extremely smart. He knew exactly about the “inner workings” of the three important parties involved in such a project, that is, the scientists, the EU commissioners, and the advisory board composed of stakeholders from very different institutions. He managed to keep all of their interests balanced and focused on achieving a positive outcome for the project. This might have been helped by his profound conviction that regulatory risk assessment should ultimately be driven by sound science. Finally, I will never forget when he asked me to lead one of the work packages in the project, and simply refused to take notice of my concerns about being too young, not in a secure position etc. I am sure that this experience as a work package leader has helped me in many ways to pursue my scientific career, and it most likely would not have happened in the same way without Thomas’ encouragement.
Thomas Knacker: international Cooperation among Friends
Dr Hans Løkke (Emeritus) and Dr John Jensen
We were both deeply saddened by the news that Thomas Knacker had passed away. Over the past few decades, we got to know Thomas through the relatively small ecotoxicology network in Europe. He was one of the first-movers in a novel scientific research area and a visionary, as well as a leader and manager. We and co-workers at the Danish National Environmental Research Institute frequently benefitted from the dynamic and creative level of cooperation we had with Thomas and his staff at ECT Oekotoxikologie GmbH. Thomas had the special ability to perform as the manager of ECT providing ecotoxicological services for industry and governmental authorities, and at the same time excel as a dedicated researcher with a focus on microcosm and mesocosm studies in the aquatic and terrestrial environment, including the fate and effects of chemicals.
As the coordinator of NoMiracle, Hans Løkke appreciated Thomas very much as an experienced and wide-ranging researcher who generously gave scientific and social contributions to the NoMiracle Project. ECT contributed with studies on degradation kinetics and metabolite formation in sediment and water. In the NoMiracle project, Thomas supervised the PhD work of Thomas Junker, who developed and tested a water-sediment screening tool based on the OECD Guideline 301C (MITI) to generate biodegradation data, which was the first water-sediment test system on screening test level. The work included the rates of elimination, turnover and mineralisation and the formation of non-extractable residues, as well as detailed checks for confounding factors such as high volatility, low solubility and high bacterial toxicity of the compounds under investigation. When we planned the 4th Open NoMiracle Workshop, entitled “Integrated Assessment of Environmental and Human Health” I phoned Thomas to find a suitable venue in Frankfurt which is located near the centre of Europe and with good connections for all travelers from our continent. He recommended the Mercure Hotel in Frankfurt, which then housed the workshop over 8–9 September 2008.
Besides the treasured remembrances of wide-ranging professional interactions within ecotoxicology, John Jensen specifically remembers Thomas as a solid, determined, ambitious and yet friendly and sociable coordinator of the successfully ERAPharm project in the period 2004–2007. Thanks to his enthusiasm and his ability to encourage and initiate transnational and transatlantic cooperation, the ERAPharm project significantly contributed to advancing environmental risk assessment of pharmaceuticals within the EU and internationally. Thomas had a special talent for staff-management and supervision, which he successfully used in the ERAPharm project by setting up a solid and firm direction and framework within which he enabled the partners to use their individual skills and talents freely. These strengths, combined with a natural talent for teambuilding and fostering social interactions, made him a well-respected coordinator. Most predominant in my memory was a very successful project meeting in Canada hosted by our Canadians partners but competently organised by Thomas and his staff from abroad.
Thomas Knacker: Competitor, reliable Project Partner and Friend
Dr Christoph Schäfers
The aquatic ecotoxicology working group of Roland Nagel at the University of Mainz was situated close to Thomas Knacker’s ECT, geographically as well as scientifically. Consequently, a substantial number of my colleagues within this group worked at ECT as post-doctoral scientists, either using it as a stepping stone into positions in industry or their own companies, or taking part in the development of ECT by staying as permanent staff.
When I started project acquisition and management for Fraunhofer IUCT (now IME) in the field of research and development of fish full life cycle tests, as well as of GLP studies using flow-through systems, I got to know Thomas Knacker as a strong competitor, since ECT and Fraunhofer IUCT shared objectives (applied research and contract work), approaches (regulatory concept development) and clients (regulatory authorities and industry). But at the same time, Thomas turned out to be a person much more interested in the scientific development of an issue than in claiming exclusive rights to it. Even for contract work, Thomas was willing to share his extensive experience. For instance, ECT constructed our flow-through facility for radiolabelled substances. In the last twelve years, we closely cooperated in many public research and development projects as well as in GLP studies for industry. Thomas was known for his timely and thorough contributions and was our favourite partner when regulatory needs of chemical safety legislation had to be considered. He was calm and competent as communicative project manager, as well as a moderator of workshops with regulators and industry. As a striking trait of his character, he showed fair-minded openness and diplomacy: Thomas could combine them effortlessly. Besides project cooperation, Thomas was helpful in giving advice for handling problems related to personnel and finance management, talking about strategic vision and sharing political and social opinions. We never acknowledged a close personal relationship, but now I am aware that I have lost a friend.
Thomas Knacker: Impressions of a Gentleman Scientist
Dr Jürg Oliver Straub
I first met Thomas Knacker as the project leader of ERAPharm when I was invited to join the Advisory Board as an industry representative. My first impression has lasted all those years: an unobtrusive man with a gentle manner, a fine sense of humour, an open mind, an intellectual horizon well beyond the limits of science, a quick intellect, high technical competence in environmental research and obvious experience in scientific projects. Together with his sensitive social skills, this set of personality traits allowed him to lead a very diverse group of scientists both softly and gracefully, yet firmly.
After ERAPharm we kept friendly contact through scientific congresses and meetings, as well as through contract work by ECT for the regulatory needs of my company. Particularly in the latter role, he shared his wide experience in environmental fate and effects testing, from strategies to follow to details of single assays, providing both sound and frank advice. It was always a pleasure to be in his company, be it for a day’s work or for a social evening. Altogether, over the years I have learnt a lot from this particular gentleman scientist.
The news of his untimely demise came unexpectedly and bitterly. As we all do, I miss his staunch, good-humoured, friendly presence. I would like to extend my sincere condolences to his family, his close friends, his collaborators at ECT and his many colleagues in the field of environmental sciences worldwide.
Reflections on Thomas Knacker
Dr Chris Metcalfe
Thomas Knacker worked too hard; an affliction that affects many of us in the field of science. His wife, Margitta affectionately complained that he even brought his laptop on vacations. Yet, I never got the impression that his hard work was motivated by personal ambition, but was rather motivated by a sense of responsibility to his company, his employees and his colleagues that drove him to put in those long hours. To a certain extent, his work defined him as a person and provided him with the network of friends and colleagues that sustained him. My impressions of Thomas are of a man with a nimble mind, who was a fine judge of people and character. He gave of himself unreservedly and with good humour. For these human qualities he will be remembered as a fine colleague and friend. For his scientific track record, he will be remembered as a damned good researcher.
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