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Nobel Laureate, medical doctor and physiologist Jens Christian Skou has died

Medical doctor and physiologist from Aarhus University, Emeritus Professor Jens Christian Skou, recipient of the most coveted and prestigious honorary award, The Nobel Prize, died on 28 May 2018. He was 99 years old.

2018.05.29 | Henriette Stevnhøj

Jens Christian Skou

Nobel Laureate Jens Christian Skou. Photo: Søren Kjeldgaard

Emeritus Professor Jens Christian Skou received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997, forty years after he discovered the sodium-potassium pump – a small but vital mechanism found in all of the body’s cells. The pump maintains a salt balance by transporting ions through the cell membrane, which is a prerequisite for muscles and nerves being able to function.

His importance to health science research globally and locally at Aarhus University as a whole and at the Department of Biomedicine in particular has been immeasurable.

The result of non-targeted research

Since Skou’s discovery in 1957, researchers around the world have studied how the pump may be involved in a number of different diseases; but for Skou there was never a strategic or targeted path leading to the ground-breaking discovery. He was fond of remarking that he would have ended up in the pile of projects that were ‘not eligible for funding' according to today’s criteria. In an interview from 2008, Skou described how people said that he was talking nonsense when he claimed that an enzyme could transport ions.

Skou's Nobel Prize really put Aarhus University on the map.

"Jens Christian Skou's achievements both as a researcher and as a person will always be a source of pride for Aarhus University. Not least after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997 following a very successful research career. Jens Christian Skou has been of pivotal importance to health science research, and right up until his death he was a unique source of inspiration for both researchers and students. Let us pay tribute to his memory," says Rector Brian Bech Nielsen.

According to the Dean of the Faculty of Health, Lars Bo Nielsen, support for non-targeted research is also one of the key issues for which Jens Christian Skou will be remembered at Aarhus University: 

"Right up until the end, Jens Christian Skou was very preoccupied with the conditions that today's research is subject to. His tireless struggle to tell politicians and the outside world about the importance of non-targeted funding for research has had a huge impact on the research environment. He has been a cornerstone and a beacon for research, and there are a great many people who are deeply grateful for his efforts."

Skou will be remembered

Jens Christian Skou will be remembered long into the future. Also in the form of bricks and mortar with the naming of the Department of Biomedicine's newest building, which is going to be inaugurated in October, as well as the first award of the prize founded in his name, which Skou himself was present at on the day of his ninety-eighth birthday in 2016. Despite his high age, Skou still kept his office at the university until a few years ago and was academically active. He published his final article as late as 2015. His office will be converted into a museum after Skou's wishes and has already been transferred to The Steno Museum in Aarhus.

Jens Christian Skou leaves behind his wife Ellen Margrethe Skou, two daughters and sons-in-law, and his grandchildren.

Read the obituary

Read more about Skou and the Nobel Prize

Further information

Dean Lars Bo Nielsen
Aarhus University, Health
Tel: 87 15 20 07
Mobile: (+45) 30 24 82 03
Email: larsbo@au.dk 

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