Shiro Takashima, Bioengineering

shiro takashima

Shiro Takashima, professor emeritus in Penn’s department of bioengineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, died on March 14. He was 91 years old.

Dr. Takashima earned his undergraduate degree in biology in 1947 and his PhD in biochemistry in 1954, both from the University of Tokyo in Japan. During his doctoral work, he served as an instructor at the University of Tokyo. After receiving his degree, he came to the United States as a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota from 1955 to 1957. He then worked as a research associate at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania from 1957 to 1959. Dr. Takashima returned to Japan in 1959 as a faculty member at the University of Tokyo and later at Osaka University for several years.

Dr. Takashima then came back to Philadelphia and joined Penn’s engineering faculty as an assistant professor in 1964. He was promoted to associate professor in 1970 and became a full professor in 1975. He served as the Bioengineering Graduate Group chair from 1976 to 1978. Dr. Takashima was one of the founding members of today’s department of bioengineering and was a close colleague of the late Herman Schwan. As one of the first Japanese scientists to come to the United States after the war, Dr. Takashima was regarded as a leader and mentor in Philadelphia’s Japanese community.

Dr. Takashima was a pioneer in the area of physical and electrical properties of membranes in what we would now consider the field of neuroengineering. Beginning with seminal work describing the effect of electric fields on altering the function of important biological molecules that included DNA, hemoglobin and albumin, Dr. Takashima also explored the functional properties of individual cells after they were exposed to electric fields. This latter work soon focused on the mechanisms regulating the propagation of electrical signaling in axons, leading to new insights into how neuronal networks are developed and maintained over their lifetime. Dr. Takashima was the author of a contemporary comprehensive book and key reference in this field, Electrical Properties of Biopolymers and Membranes, published in 1989.

Dr. Takashima retired from Penn in 1993.

According to Dr. Takashima’s colleagues, he was highly regarded by generations of students for his thoughtful and kind nature and was a wonderful mentor and teacher. Students frequently sought his counsel if they experienced difficulty with a course, a research project or an experimental design. He was praised for his capacity for listening, empathizing with their concerns and offering constructive suggestions.

Dr. Takashima is survived by his wife, Yuki; one daughter, Nozomi; one son, Makato; and four grandchildren, Matteo, Masao, Kenji and Jamie.