Robert Fink, Renowned Scientist

Dr. Robert Morgan Fink, the second half of a famous scientific team, a founding faculty member of the UCLA School of Medicine, and longtime Palisadian, passed away gently and sweetly on September 5. He was 96.   Born in Greenville, Illinois, on September 22, 1915, Robert was the last of five sons, followed by one daughter, to William Harvey Fink and Pearl Smith Fink. From an early age he conveyed an irrepressible love of nature and a lifelong intellectual curiosity about science and the world around him. He enjoyed a long, healthy and happy life that included travel to six continents.   After attending Kansas State College for two years, Robert graduated from the University of Illinois in 1937. He moved east for postgraduate studies at Lehigh University (1937-1938) and later received his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 1942. There he met and married classmate Kathryn Lucille Ferguson on January 6, 1941. She received her Ph.D. there in June 1943 while carrying their first daughter, Patricia Kay. Suzanne Joyce followed in 1946.’   During World War II, both Drs. Fink were called to serve the national need by joining the Manhattan Project.’ They were part of a team that had responsibility for all medical and public-health services, including protection from radiation hazards for personnel working on the first atom bomb at various sites in the U.S. Their research facilities were at the University of Rochester.   In 1946, Robert was sent to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Archipelago as a member of the Joint Task Force team for Radiological Safety and Research to witness and study some of the early nuclear-weapons tests conducted in the area.’Fortunately, their research also led to the development of widespread international movements advocating disarmament.’   Finally, in 1947, Robert and Kathryn found their home in Southern California, after being recruited as a research team by Dr. Stafford Warren, the first dean of UCLA’s Medical School.’They moved from New York, driving cross-country in the sweltering heat with their two young daughters but, of course, no air conditioning in the car. It was an adventure back then.   From their arrival in California, the Finks carried on their research on behalf of UCLA, but as space for research was nonexistent their research was conducted at the Birmingham Hospital in San Fernando Valley and at the VA Hospital in Long Beach, until their labs were built at the new School of Medicine.   Robert and Kathryn formed a famous and prolific scientific team that was touted in publications to be the modern-day counterpart to Pierre and Madame Curie during their early years in the lab together. They were pioneers whose discoveries led the way for many others to continue in the field of biological chemistry, thyroid biochemistry, amino acid and purine metabolism. They also identified 12 previously unidentified chemical compounds occurring in the body, wrote four books and authored 44 papers, often presented at international conferences. They were the first to develop filter paper chromatography and radioactive tracer techniques, photosynthesis and nucleic acid metabolism, while also being trailblazers for many radiation experiments and advancements in nuclear medicine. Robert was also an expert in studies of polonium, radium and plutonium.’ The Finks were on the first faculty to welcome and launch the first UCLA School of Medicine class in 1951. That class graduated in 1954. Fifty years later, on the golden anniversary of this class, Dr. Robert M. Fink stood proudly to watch his grandson, Walter G. Coppenrath III, as he was awarded his doctorate in medicine and the Edward Langdon Award for Humanity in Medicine.’   Robert Fink stayed sharp and interested in the world until the end, reading the Palisadian-Post and the L.A. Times and working the crossword daily, as he had for years.’He will be remembered for his kindness and his gentle manner, as a nature lover, a wonderful father, fantastic grandpa and proud and happy great-grandpa. He will also be missed by his birder and butterfly groups with whom he traveled worldwide.   Dr. Fink was preceded in death by his beloved wife Kathryn in 1989. He is survived by his daughters, Joya Pope of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Suzanne Coppenrath (Palisades High class of 1964) and son-in-law Walter Coppenrath Jr. of Montisi, Italy, and Long Beach.   All three grandchildren have chosen careers in the medical field. Grandson Walter G. Coppenrath III, M.D. (Silverlake); granddaughter Kellie Coppenrath, who works with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization in Geneva, Switzerland; and granddaughter Maya Long, a registered nurse in Santa Clarita. She and her husband, Steve, gave immense joy to her grandpa by providing great- granddaughter Makenna Long and great-grandson Tyler Long.