BF2-2004Vale Jan Anderson

If you would like to express your own experiences in knowing Jan, we will be able to publish them in this webpage. Please email your submissions to .




An advisement from the Academy of Science

It is with great sadness that I advise you of the death of Professor Jan Anderson FAA FRS FDhc(Umea) on 28 August 2015. Jan died peacefully in Canberra after a short illness.

Jan was an Adjunct Professor at the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University. Jan was a highly distinguished plant scientist whose research focused on the molecular organization of plant thyakoid membranes, the molecular mechanisms of light regulation in higher plants and the functional/structural dynamics of photosystem II in vivo and chlorophyll-proteins of plants and algae. Jan received the Lemberg Medal and Lecture from the Australian Biochemical Society in 1983.

Jan was elected to the Academy in 1987 and to the Royal Society in 1996. Jan received an Honorary Doctorate, University of Umeå, Sweden in 1998 and a Centenary Medal in 2000. Jan was a highly cited author, and in 2004 was the Thomson Australian Citation Laureate in Plant and Animal Biology. In 2007 Jan received the International Society of Photosynthesis Research Lifetime Achievement Award to acknowledge a lifetime of outstanding contributions to understanding photosynthesis Life.

Further details on Jan’s research, publications and achievements can be found on her ANU profile

Jan was a committed member of the Fellowship who generously gave her time to serve the Academy. She was a member of Council from 1991 to 1994 and Vice-President of the Academy from 1992 to 1993. She was Chair and Member of several Sectional Committees from 1988 to 91, 1996 to 1998 and from 1999 to 2003. Jan served on the House Committee from 2001 to 2011 and on both the Japan Exchange and the JSPS Fellowship Committees over many years between 1988 and 2014. Jan also served on the Boden Research Conferences from 1987 to 1994 and Chaired the Rudi Lemberg Travelling Fellowship from 1992 to 2003. Jan was an active member of the ACT Regional group and attended many Academy events.

A service to celebrate the life of Jan Anderson will be held from 10:30am at St John’s Church, Reid in Canberra on Tuesday, 8th September 2015. Following the service, guests are invited to join the family for light refreshments in the Jaeger Room, Shine Dome. (For catering purposes, please acknowledge your intention to attend the refreshments by email: We have been informed that the ANU is planning to hold a memorial service for Jan in October.


Our condolences go to Jan’s family and friends.

Professor Andrew Holmes AM PresAA FRS FTSE



From the Australian Society of Plant Scientists:

Vale Jan Anderson 1932-2015‏


Vale Jan Anderson

It with deep sadness that I convey this message. Jan Anderson died tragically early, on Friday 28 August. She suffered a fall at home and while in hospital, lapsed into unconsciousness from which she never recovered. Jan served ASPS as president from 1992 to 1994 and was elected to the Royal Society in 1996. I had the privilege of working in her lab as a post doctoral fellow in the mid 1980s. Her passion was the light reactions of photosynthesis, a field in which she has left an indelible mark, breaking the dogma of equal proportions of photosystem one and two, demonstrating lateral heterogeneity in their location in thylakoid membranes, to mention but two. Although she suffered arthritis in one knee, her mind was as sharp as ever and she had just returned from the UK where she had been invited to celebrate Jim Barber’s birthday. Australian science has lost a wonderful colleague, but her example should be a beacon for the rest of us to aspire towards .


John Evans



From Fred Chow:

“Jan Anderson graduated with a BSc and MSc (1st Hons.) at the University of New Zealand, and obtained her PhD (1956-59) under the supervision of Nobel Laureate Melvin Calvin at UC Berkeley.  After her PhD, notwithstanding well over 50 job offers, Jan spent two years wondering through Europe.  Back in New Zealand, Jan broke her bond which required her to teach at Wellington Girls High School, in order to take up a job offer made four years earlier by John Falk, CSIRO Plant Industry, after he had given a seminar at Berkeley.  Thus began her long and illustrious career with CSIRO Plant Industry (1961-1997).  From May 1996 (still on CSIRO salary till she turned 65 on 12 May 1997) until she went into hospital on 5 August 2015, Jan was Adjunct Professor at the RSBS/RSB.


I first met Jan when I worked in Keith Boardman’s lab in 1976.  She had just returned from study leave at Cambridge University, where she had written what turned out to be a well-received review on the organisation of macromolecules in the photosynthetic membrane.  Keith and Jan had produced the first experimental evidence of the existence of two photosystems in photosynthesis (Nature 203: 166-167) and were sharing lab space and facilities.  But it was not until 1985 that I left a job at the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute, England, to come back to Australia as Jan’s postdoc.  Jan could not have been happy with my performance during the first few months, for I did not know the techniques in her lab and I am a slow learner.  As time went by, however, we seemed to complement each other: I worked like the sluggish photosynthetic enzyme Rubisco, while she thought and wrote at the speed of electron transfer in a photosynthetic reaction centre.  In 1996, two months after Jan, I also left CSIRO Plant Industry to join Barry Osmond’s Director’ Unit in RSBS.  For three decades, Jan has been my supervisor, colleague and mentor, always kind-hearted.  Her enthusiasm and curiosity were infectious.  Indeed, she and I went to London for a conference and a lab reunion only last month, and she also went on to Cambridge University; she was so full of life, despite needing the support of a walking stick.  While I will very sadly miss Jan’s presence in the lab, I shall always cherish her memory.”


From Marilyn Ball:


“I met Jan in 1982, when I was a postdoc at UC Berkeley. My experiment wasn’t going well that day, and another postdoc suggested that we should all go to a seminar being given by a visiting scientist from Canberra, Jan Anderson. I knew nothing about her, but the topic sounded interesting, and so we all set off to walk up the hill to the seminar venue. It was a good thing that we left early because metro-sized busses were arriving filled with staff and students from UC Davis who had come to hear her seminar. The lecture hall was enormous and packed to the rafters. It was more like going to a rock concert than a seminar…..but then this was Berkeley and I learned that Jan was regarded as one of their star PhD graduates. She gave a stunning seminar on lateral heterogeneity in the structural organisation of photosystems I and II in the thylakoid membranes of chloroplasts, the sites of photosynthesis. It was a tour de force of biochemical sleuth work, identifying the locations of major protein complexes and showing that the stoichiometry of the two photosystems was not 1, as had long been believed. Her presentation was exciting, and afterwards it was equally wonderful to meet her. A year later, I had the good fortune to begin collaborations with her on experiments aimed at understanding whether or not thylakoid membranes were sites of adaptation or acclimation to salinity. Unfortunately, we disproved a popular theory. However, Jan taught me to deal with such findings with sensitivity and to recognize that negative results create opportunities to understand a system in a different way than expected.  I loved every moment of working and learning with Jan, whose passion for science was infectious and whose ability to   rise above prejudice against women in science was inspiring.  She was my mentor, collaborator and friend for over thirty years, and I will miss her deeply.”


From Graham Farquhar:

“What struck me most about Jan was her love of colour – colour in her clothes and in her office, colour in her diagrams and slides, and of course, structure.

​ ​She had also had an interesting life outside of science. Another clever Kiwi (like Lloyd Evans, Lew Mander, Sir Otto Frankel, and Sir Fred White), she had to get permission after training as a teacher to go for a PhD (with Calvin the Nobel Laureate at UC Berkeley). I remember she told me that after the PhD she took a year off to do Europe and, I think, the Near-east.  We had a good time together in 1996 in London signing the book at the Royal Society, admiring Carlton House Terrace and celebrating.”


From John Evans:


“Jan is a vibrant, colourful scientist whose sharp and questioning mind has been inspirational for many. During my PhD, I became increasingly aware of her controversial ideas on how protein complexes were arranged in chloroplast thylakoid membranes. She is a prolific publisher of ideas that gradually changed the dogma. I returned to Canberra on a CSIRO post-doctoral fellowship in the mid 1980s to work in Jan’s lab alongside Fred Chow and Stephanie McCaffery from whom I learnt many biochemical and photochemical assays. Jan’s passion is in understanding chlorophyll protein complexes and the light reactions of photosynthesis. An avid reader of the literature, she frequently alerts me to papers that I must read. Aside from her significant academic contribution through publications, ASPS President, election to the Royal Society and Australian Academy of Science, what is amazing are the stories of how she dealt with significant gender barriers from early on in her career. Her passion for pigments in photosynthesis clearly extends to her wardrobe of colourful clothes, her love of colourful art and colourful depiction of ideas in diagrams. Although a passionate person, she manages to avoid colourful language.”


From Barry Pogson:


“Such a loss of such a wise and wonderful lady. I count her as one of my key mentors – all the more a reflection on Jan in that I never actually worked or studied under her. Yet she adopted a young scientist and guided and supported him when he started out at ANU 16 years ago. Even before that I introduced myself to Jan in the Budapest photosynthesis meeting and she advised me on science in Australia as I was living in the USA looking to return. More recently I would see her give her support to new and emerging scientists in Finland or wherever she met them. Valle Jan Anderson – an inspirational, talented, passionate and caring scientist.”

Other links and references:



  1. Chow FW, Osmond B: A Tribute to Joan (Jan) Mary Anderson 12 May 1932–28 August 2015. Trends in Plant Science 2015, 20(11):687-689.
  2. Bhathal RS: Profiles: Australian women scientists: National Library Australia; 1999.
  3. Anderson JM: The molecular organization of chloroplast thylakoids. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Reviews on Bioenergetics 1975, 416(2):191-235.
  4. Professor Jan Anderson FRS – Shedding light on photosynthesis []