Obituary: Adjunct Professor Joan (Jan) Mary Anderson, 1932–2015

Written by Professor FRED CHOW and Professor BARRY OSMOND

Joan (Jan) Mary Anderson was an internationally-acclaimed plant biologist renowned for her discoveries of the organisation of the intricate membrane structures that carry out solar energy conversion in cells of green plants.

In a research career spanning 55 years, mostly at the Division of Plant Industry CSIRO Canberra and the former ANU Research School of Biological Sciences, Jan's experiments and insights changed the way we think about the light reactions of photosynthesis.

This most energetic of all biological processes enables plants to use sunlight to split water into the by-product oxygen and fix carbon dioxide into the raw materials upon which all life on Earth ultimately depends.

Jan graduated from the University of New Zealand and won a year-long King George V Memorial Fellowship for New Zealand to study anywhere in the US.

Noble Laureate Harold Urey recommended her to his friend (and soon to be Nobel Laureate) Melvin Calvin at the University of California Berkeley.

In 1959, she moved to Canberra to CSIRO Plant Industry.

She was placed in the laboratory of Keith Boardman, thus beginning an outstanding collaboration that cemented the reputation of Canberra as a centre for breakthrough research in the light reactions of photosynthesis.

Jan's experiments that brought evidence of photosystems saw her become the first Australian to be awarded a Carnegie Institution Fellowship to Stanford University's Department of Plant Biology.

This was followed by the visit of Carnegie scientist Olle Björkman to Canberra in 1971-72 that established an informal but enduring partnership in photosynthesis research between Canberra and Palo Alto laboratories that today ranges from molecular to global scales.