While studying linguistics at the University of Geneva, Elena (Lin) Weaver had a job working as a bubble chamber scanner at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN. Each four-hour shift, Lin would glimpse pictures of high-energy particles smashing together and breaking apart, tracking the particles’ trajectories. It was a whole new world for the language lover.
“I had never experienced anything like it; it was astounding to observe first-hand the world of high energy physics,” said Lin, a philanthropist and member of the College of Biological Sciences Campaign Leadership Council. “It was then that I became fascinated with scientific research. I was adopted by a very eccentric group of physicists of various nationalities and degrees of eccentricity.”
Lin quickly formed friendships with her colleagues. One day at a party, she met one of CERN’s new theoretical physicists, David L. Weaver, who was at CERN as a NATO fellow. A few months later, Lin and David married. The marriage lasted almost 39 years.
“We had nothing in common in terms of growing up in the same place, speaking the same language or working in the same field, but we obviously had love in common, and that’s really the most powerful thing in life,” said Lin of her relationship with her late husband, who passed away in 2006.
Helping neuroscientists share their research
In honor of David’s memory, Lin, her children and David’s sister Marcia Murray created the David L. Weaver Award, which will provide financial support for one or more UC Davis neuroscience graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and/or junior faculty researching stroke and traumatic brain injury. The money will be used to help recipients travel to conferences and other scientific meetings to present their research.
“I’m in awe at what the Center for Neuroscience has accomplished in terms of attracting the best of the best in the field of brain research,” Lin said. “Their researchers, and more generally those at UC Davis, I observed, are much more willing to explore both interdisciplinary and novel initiatives, and I think this is key.”
Shifting to biophysics
After the NATO Fellowship, David, according to Lin, started thinking about how he could use his chemical physics and mathematical knowledge to address biological questions. He was already recognized for his work in theoretical high energy physics and had received tenure at Tufts University, in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
During a sabbatical year at Harvard University, David had the good fortune to work with Martin Karplus, of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. Together, they developed the diffusion-collision model of protein folding, which theorized how protein molecules acquire their biologically functional shapes. The research was published in Nature in 1976. Their collaboration continued until 2006.
“Not only did they become long-term collaborators, but they became friends,” said Lin. “When I set up the David L. Weaver Endowed Lectures in Biophysics and Computational Biology at the UC Davis Genome Center, Martin helped me all the way through the process and came to give the inaugural lecture.”
The UC Davis connection
As the decades passed, David continued unraveling the mysteries behind protein folding. From 1989 to 2002, he also served as chair of his department. “In his dealings with the department David was fair to all, striving always to do what he thought was right and equitable,” according to Tufts University.
In 2004, David suffered a stroke, but the incident didn’t deter his research or teaching. Two years later, he planned to take a sabbatical year and continue his protein folding work at the UC Davis Genome Center, but he passed away suddenly from heart failure on April 4, 2006.
While he never got the chance to conduct research in the Genome Center, David left an impression on the facility. The lectureship series launched the following year.
“I love the College of Biological Sciences,” said Lin of her experience with UC Davis. “I have felt valued, included and involved from the start in a way that is unique to the college.”
With the new award, Lin hopes to provide new opportunities for researchers to advance and share their original research on stroke and traumatic brain injury. She knows firsthand how devastating those type of injuries can be.
“I hope this can make a significant difference in helping graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and junior faculty attend conferences or other scientific events. This award in memory of my husband makes all the family very happy.” she said.