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Marjam Behar Retires from CSR

By Don Luckett

"I've been at the right place," said Dr. Marjam Behar, looking back on her 21 years at the Center for Scientific Review and the Division of Research Grants. She recently retired as a scientific review administrator of a study section (SSS-6) in CSR's biophysical and chemical sciences integrated review group. "I've enjoyed my work tremendously."

Behar seems to have always been at the right place at just the right time. "I've have been very lucky," she explained. "I was born in Poland, and in 1930 without knowing what was coming, my family immigrated from anti-Semitic Poland to Portugal. When political conditions deteriorated there in 1939, we were able to immigrate to Cuba."

Dr. Marjam Behar

She was fortunate to find educational opportunities there, and her interests in science flourished. She received a bachelor's in science from the Instituto Santiago and a D.Sc. in physical and chemical sciences from the University of Havana. After postdoctoral work at the University of Havana and a branch of Villanova University in Havana, she spent 4 years in industry. She worked as a research chemist at the Virginia Smelting Co. in Havana and then at a local pharmaceutical company, Laboratory Giol. After the birth of her first child in 1953, Behar taught math, physics and chemistry at local high schools. Her family was spared the turmoil of Castro's revolution when her husband was recruited by the Garden State Tanning Corp. in Pine Grove, Pa. Behar, her husband and 2-year-old son immigrated to the U.S. in 1955. She soon joined the company too as an analytical control and research chemist. Three years later, she went to Philco Corp. in Lansdale, Pa., where she refined processes for manufacturing transistors. In 1962, she began a 17-year association with the department of anesthesia at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. After working as a research laboratory associate and instructor, she became the director of the core facility for analytical chemistry at the Center for Research in Anesthesia there.

v An interest in the activity of histamine in the brain led Behar to spend a week at NIH in 1979. She worked with Dr. Michael Beaven, who had developed histamine antibodies at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. She also learned more about NIH and soon became interested in scientific review administration. Villanova University made a career change possible by awarding her the required Ph.D. based on her D.Sc. and subsequent work. Before she knew it, she was recruited to oversee the metallobiochemistry study section in the Division of Research Grants, which is now CSR. Four years later, she became the scientific review administrator for the SSS-6 study section.

Having overcome so many barriers to become a successful scientist, Behar made significant efforts to help others do the same. She was a mentor for the American Chemical Society's Project SEED (Summer Educational Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged), and she served as chair of the local SEED chapter. In recognition of her commitment to the project, she was awarded an EEO Special Achievement Award in 1997. Since she also successfully raised three children, she was the perfect role model for young women seeking both a scientific career and a family.

CSR director Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld summarized the thoughts of many when she said Behar has garnered tremendous "respect and gratitude for her relentless commitment to science, her study section, CSR, NIH and the peer review system." Indeed, she has become a legend for recruiting and retaining top-notch reviewers no one else could. In 2000, she received a CSR Director's Award "for her superb ability to recruit the ablest reviewers to her committees, for her dedication to successfully dealing with heavy review workloads, and for her unceasing promotion of the scientific review process."

Behar's current and former study section members honored her in 1997 with a special symposium on advances in bioanalytical and bioinorganic chemistry at the 213th meeting of the American Chemical Society. When her study section members heard she was retiring, they gave her a farewell party and a notebook filled with letters and photos that illustrated the appreciation they had for her and the work they did together.

At her retirement luncheon, Behar said she "still feels young and strong." She is looking forward to celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary and serving on the women chemists committee of the American Chemical Society. With plans like these, she will surely discover that she is still "at the right place."

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