Obituary: Dr. Burkhard Hense

On February 28th our friend and colleague Dr. Burkhard Hense suddenly passed away after a short illness. He is leaving us behind stunned and without words.

Dr. Burkhard Hense, Quelle: Helmholtz Zentrum München

Burkhard was born on January 7th, 1965 in Beleke/Warstein in Westphalia, where he spent his childhood. After finishing school in 1984 he studied biology at the Ruhr University Bochum. This is where the foundations for his interest in microbiology were laid. He then joined the Institute of Ecological Chemistry for a PhD and defended his doctoral thesis "Approach to use-dependent assessment of the re-utilization of decontaminated soils" at the Technische Universität München in 1998. This year he also joined the Institute of Biomathematics and Biometry which later became the Institute of Computational Biology due to his interest in using mathematical modeling and image analysis. He started working on algal communities and aquatic communities, applying advanced imaging methods for classification and quantification. Joining a rizosphere project, Burkhards professional interest then focused on quorum sensing. Within this field he became a widely visible and internationally respected expert.

His approach using modeling to analyse biochemical mechanisms received wide attention when he and his colleagues from the Research Unit Plant-Microbe-Interactions and the Department of Mathematics, Technische Universität München, received the Erwin-Schrödinger award for interdisciplinary science in 2007, based on their work of providing an explanation for the seemingly contradictory concepts of quorum sensing and diffusion sensing (Hense et al., Nat. Rev. Microb., 2007). His long-lasting collaboration with Christina Kuttler and Johannes Müller lead to many further papers on various aspects of bacterial interaction and evolutionary stable interaction patterns.

Burkhard always regarded his scientific work as interdisciplinary, serving a common scientific goal. Although firmly rooted within his background in microbiology, he contributed to many fields in biological research, as diverse as calcium signalling in apoptosis, endocrine disruptors of aquatic ecosystems, identification and quantification of algal communities, or mechanisms of development of diabetes. Bringing mathematical algorithms and computational tools into applications in biomedical research, he implemented and lived the Helmholtz mission in a consequent way.

Much of his scientific work was rooted in his charming and open way to communicate with other people. He had the gift of integrating people of various backgrounds, bringing them together towards a common scientific goal. His winning personality is well reflected in the wealth of contacts he continuingly held with many students, colleagues and former institute members. Burkhard never missed an opportunity to join in social activities such as card board games, opera, or leading kids through Munich zoo. Being a soccer aficionado he frenetically supported 1. FC Köln, not missing to engage with the biased fans of Munich teams.

Burkhard's interest in biology did not stop at work. Almost every free minute he spend at the nature reserve "Ismaninger Speichersee", watching out for rare bird species resting there for molt or helping the local authorities in fighting avian flue outbreaks. He even published reports on his ornithological passion (e.g. Köhler et al., Ornith. Anz. 2007).

Burkhard knew that one has to invest for true passion, and thus, he occasionally pushed the limits by embarking on adventurous trips to Papua New Guinea and similar remote locations. His way of taking life including its challenges and opportunities, never taking no for an answer, provided a guiding example for many of us. We will truly miss an invaluable colleague, a dedicated scientist and a genuine friend.

Dr. Wolfgang zu Castell-Rüdenhausen and the members of the ICB