In his long tenure at Marquette, Dr. Peter Abramoff led the Biology Department to national distinction.
Dr. Abramoff, a native of Quebec, Canada, received his bachelor’s degree from Assumption College, of the University of Western Ontario. In 1952, he completed his Master’s degree in zoology at the University of Detroit. Dr. Abramoff joined Marquette University in 1955, after graduating with his Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1965, Dr. Abramoff became Assistant Chairman of the department, and succeeded Dr. John W. Saunders as department Chairman in 1966. Dr. Abramoff would go on to serve the biology department for nearly 25 years as the Chairman, the longest tenure of any College of Liberal Arts Chair to date.
As a teacher, Dr. Abramoff was regarded as both an excellent and innovative instructor. In 1971, he was selected as an Outstanding Educator for America. He was known to go to extraordinary lengths to obtain support for graduate students in the department. He mentored over 40 graduate students himself, many of whom have gone on to have distinguished careers of their own. The university records show numerous instances where Dr. Abramoff solicited funding for new teaching equipment to excite and motivate the department’s students. For example, in 1978, he requested funds from the Liberal Arts College to purchase a new teaching tool, “Multi-Image Lectures in Introductory Biology”. These presentations included taped narration, music and sound effects, and projected images from several slide projectors. These innovative multimedia lectures surely made class much more interesting! During the mid-1980’s, Dr. Abramoff was instrumental in pioneering the department’s new curriculum concept of separating lecture and laboratories. Creating stand-alone laboratory classes allowed for greater flexibility in course offerings, increased student-faculty contact by decreasing the number of students per laboratory section, provided specialized facilities and more sophisticated equipment for each laboratory course, and reduced the overall number of courses taught by the department faculty. All of these benefits were possible with the new system, even with the always limited resources and large numbers of students in the programs. As chairman of the Biology Department, Dr. Abramoff was recognized as a highly-capable administer of the affairs of the department. Many of our current faculty joined the department during Abramoff’s tenure, including Dr. James Courtright, Dr. Robert Fitts, Dr. Gail Waring, Dr. Stephen Munroe, Dr. Dale Noel, Dr. Kathy Karrer, Dr. James Buchanan, and Dr. James Maki.
Dr. Abramoff’s impressive scholarly pursuits are evident in his extensive library of published material. Between 1956 and 1990, he published more than 35 peer-reviewed papers, multiple lab manuals, and 2 textbooks. Dr. Abramoff was awarded many prestigious research grants to fund his work, including large grants from NIH, NSF, US Public Health Service, and the National Heart and Lung Institute, among others. His research program attracted a large number of graduate students to the department, and focused national attention on the quality of research potential in the Milwaukee area. In 1978, Dr. Abramoff was recognized with the Wehr Distinguished Professorship, which recognized his breadth of scholarly activities, devotion to Marquette University, and vigorous leadership of the Biology Department. The Wehr Distinguished Professorship is one of the two faculty chair positions made possible through the generosity of the late Milwaukee industrialist C. Frederic (Todd) Wehr.
Primarily, Dr. Abramoff was an immunologist, but his research program covered many areas. Over his tenure at Marquette, he made advancements in a number of areas of biology. His early work considered the immunological implications of antigen competition at receptor sites. In the late 1950’s, Dr. Abramoff looked at the effects of x-irradiation on exteriorized blood to determine if anti-body producing tissues, such as the spleen and lymph nodes, are affected if the blood is the only tissue in the body that is exposed to x-ray radiation. During this period, he also conducted cancer research attempting to isolate and utilize tumor-specific antibodies. Other research examined the evolutionary origin and possibility of transplants in the genetically identical amazon molly, an unusual tropical fish that evolved as a female species. From the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s, much of Dr. Abramoff’s work was on the immunobiology of the lung
In addition to his academic and scholarly successes, Dr. Abramoff was an influential member of a number of national and international professional organizations and societies. He was a twenty year member of the Reticuloendothelial Society, and served in various roles through the years, including President in the early 1980’s. The society focused on the system of cells and tissues involved in host defense mechanisms that protect the body against disease. Dr. Abramoff organized large events for this society in Milwaukee in the early 1980’s. The 18th Annual Meeting of the Reticuloendothelial Society was held at the Pfister in downtown Milwaukee in 1981, and drew nearly 400 national and international investigators to discuss current topics in immunology. The 5-day event involved a pre-meeting workshop hosted at Marquette, special exhibits and seminars at the Pfister, and was complete with a society banquet with performances by Russian and Polish dancers.
In 1984, Dr. Abramoff established an annual spring semester symposium with the goal of bringing internationally renowned speakers to campus each academic year. The first Marquette Life Sciences Symposium brought 200 attendees to Milwaukee to discuss the topic of “Genetic Transformation of Eukaryotes”. In 1985, the Oliver Smith Memorial Lecture and endowment fund was established to recognize Dr. Smith’s 24 years of service to the Biology Department. The Smith lecture continues today with additional support by the Scholl endowment.
In 1982, Dr. Abramoff proposed a Marquette Biology Visiting Committee for improved interaction with local industry and to serve as a presidential advisory committee in the matters of long-term growth of biological training and research at Marquette. In 1983, the proposed committee held its first meeting as the Advisory Council to the Biology Department with Dr. Jack M. Siegal of P-L Biochemicals and Dr. Gary W. Sanderson of Universal Foods as first chair and vice chair. By 1985, the board was providing basic support for existing department activities, and also acted as a catalyst for new activities and developments for the department.
Throughout his career, Dr. Abramoff regularly served as a consultant on scientific panels, biology education, and to biotechnology companies. As the biotechnology industry in Wisconsin took off in the 1980’s, Dr. Abramoff’s expertise as a consultant was sought by Governor Tommy Thompson. Dr. Abramoff was appointed to the Governor’s Council on Biotechnology, which was created as a central effort to identify Wisconsin’s strengths and weaknesses within the biotechnology industry infrastructure, enhance programs of research, and to formulate a cohesive policy and strategy to stimulate economic development in biotechnology.
Dr. Abramoff stepped down as department chairman in 1989, and retired from Marquette shortly thereafter. In the early 1990’s, Dr. Abramoff joined FOTODYNE Inc. a worldwide leader in the manufacture and sales of laboratory instruments, located in Hartland, WI, and eventually was named president and CEO of the company in 1994. Dr. Abramoff and his wife currently live in Brookfield, WI.