Dan Wesley Urry, world renowned molecular biophysicist, died November 30, 2020 at age 85 from a myocardial infarction.
Dr. Urry was most recently known for his research in the area of molecular biophysics, whereby proteins catalyze the energy conversions that sustain life and their applications.
Born in Salt Lake City in 1935, Dr. Urry grew up curious about the world around him trying to gain an understanding of how things work. This led to leadership roles in The Boy Scouts of America and as a high school summer assistant role on an archaeological dig for The University of Utah’s Anthropology Department. These experiences and others solidified a passion for science and how chemistry could help explain and impact the world.
Dr. Urry earned a BA Degree in Medical Biology from The University of Utah in 1960 and a PhD in 1964 in the field of Physical Chemistry under Henry Eyring PhD, a world-famous chemist, who became a mentor, and friend. Dr. Urry then completed fellowships at Harvard, The University of California-Berkeley, and became a tenured Associate Member heading a laboratory for the Institute of Biomedical Research of The American Medical Association in 1965, promoted to tenured Full Member in 1969. He was Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at The University of Chicago from 1967-1970. He served as Professor of Biochemistry and as Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham from 1970 until 1997, holding additional appointments as Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Adjunct Professor of Physics. He then served as Professor of Chemical Engineering and Material Science at The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Campus from 1997-2000 and from 2000-2008 as Professor of Biophysics.
During his career he accepted Visiting Professorships in Padova and Palermo, Italy as well as Braga, Portugal, Kitakyushu and Fukuoka, Japan, and Munich, Germany. In addition, he presented 560 extracurricular presentations involving 23 countries.
Dr. Urry’s major research efforts involved membrane structure and mechanisms in ion transport, elastic processes in protein mechanisms including contraction, and the molecular structure and pathology of elastin and its relationship to atherosclerosis, pulmonary emphysema, and to the development of elastomeric biomaterials for biomedical uses. The research led to the formation of a company that eventually became known as Bioelastics Inc.
Dr. Urry was the principal author or co-author of over 492 scientific papers, 144 published abstracts, a number of patents, and 2 books-most recently What Sustains Life? Consilient Mechanisms for Protein-Based Machines and Materials. He was a member of many scientific societies, two of which were the American Society of Biological Chemistry and American Chemical Society as well as a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and a member of The American Association for the Advancement of Science. He
also served in numerous editorial capacities for such publications as Research & Development Magazine and the Journal of Membrane Biology.
Dr. Urry was the recipient of such prestigious awards as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Prize for 1979-1980, the Scientist of the Year award in 1988 by Research & Development magazine whose editor Robert R. Jones, observed that “Dan W. Urry was trained at the finest universities. His mentors were outstanding. His academic credentials are impeccable. He has an enviable record as a research scientist. His accomplishments are legion. The potential impact of his life work on humanity is virtually immeasurable.” When he was named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1987 the program read in part, “graduate students trained in his laboratory continue to expand his influence as they add their contributions to the quest for a better understanding of biochemical structures and processes.” In 1991 he received the Wright A. Gardner Award by the Alabama Academy of Science as well as many others in America and abroad. His most recent award occurred in 2018 when given the Albert Nelson Marquis lifetime Achievement Award by Marquis Who’s Who.
Married to Kathleen Lake since 1974, Dr. Urry was the proud father of four children and two grandchildren: Weston D. Urry, Douglas W. Urry, who proceeded him in death, David W. Urry and his two children, and his daughter with Kathleen, Kelley Danielle Urry.
Dan loved traveling with Kathleen and, when possible, his children, bringing them with him on his out-of-country lectures and visiting professorships. Dan spent time with Kathleen and his sons in Italy in the Province of Venice, the Dolomite Mountains, and houseboating on Kentucky Lake, Tennessee. Beginning at a young age, Kelley traveled with her parents to China, Japan, and Europe, and as a teenager spent weekends with them boating and skiing on Lake Logan Martin, Alabama. In all of these adventures, Dan encouraged curiosity, exploration, and a love of nature in his children.
Having been raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Urry reactivated in the Church after a fifty-year absence. He did so, as he did everything else in life, whole-heartedly, becoming a seeker of spiritual truths as well as scientific ones. He acted as Executive Secretary to two Mission Presidents, helping in the administration of the volunteer missionary force. He was an avid temple worker and attendee in both the Birmingham Alabama Temple and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Temple, places of sacredness in his faith.
Dr. Urry was buried in Birmingham, Alabama in the Currie-Jefferson Memorial Gardens on December 7, 2020. He is esteemed, much loved, and missed.