Jerry J. Kollros (1917–2007)

Professor Jerry J. Kollros died on June 8, 2007 after a long battle with cancer. He was 89. Dr. Kollros was a native of Vienna, Austria, but lived as a boy in what is now the Czech Republic. His family emigrated to America in 1919 and settled in the Chicago area. Dr. Kollros showed early signs of academic promise and won a scholarship to the University of Chicago, from which he received the B.S. degree in 1938 (Phi Beta Kappa). He proceeded to the Ph.D. degree there (1942), studying development with Paul Weiss.

During the remainder of the war years, Dr. Kollros was engaged in war-related research dealing with head injuries and concussion as well as epileptogenic effects of penicillin. In this period he married fellow graduate student, Catherine Lutherman (Ph.D., U. of Chicago, 1944). There followed a faculty appointment in Zoology at the University of Iowa (1946) and he rose rapidly to the full professorship by 1957. Meanwhile, he served as Acting Chairman of the Department and then Chairman (1955), while still an Associate Professor. Dr. Kollros served as Zoology Chairman for 22 years, having been re-elected enthusiastically by his colleagues to successive terms.

He taught many of our courses through the years, including his specialties, development and neurodevelopment, but his special love was comparative vertebrate anatomy. He assembled masses of enrichment materials for this course and delighted in informing students of the arcana of animal structures that so resembled their own. Students who went on into the biomedical professions often wrote to him expressing appreciation for the solid foundation that he had provided.

His research was devoted to neurodevelopment in amphibians; he was especially fascinated by what could be revealed during metamorphosis in these animals, which change dramatically in structure and function from an aquatic tadpole to a terrestrial form, all controlled by the thyroid hormone. He found he could effect these changes conveniently by adding the hormone directly to the aquarium water (1963). In the course of this work he made three major, much-cited contributions to the field. First, he devised a method (with A.C. Taylor, 1946) for breaking up the rapid development of the frog into arbitrary, but well-defined stages. This staging scheme was quickly adopted by amphibian biologists as it enabled them to compare accurately their work across labs. Next, he showed that thyroid hormone could act directly on the brain to cause its maturation. This was the first demonstration that hormones control the development of the brain in vertebrates. Later, Dr. Kollros and colleagues discovered that the nervous system undergoes remodeling during development, involving nerve cell turnover (cell death and replacement). He was among the first to realize that a strategy used in development is to overproduce cells to make certain that the appropriate networks form and then to eliminate those not needed.

His talents extended to administration. Under Dr. Kollros’ leadership, the department more than doubled in size in the 1960’s and early 70’s he first acquired funds from the state for a facilities grant from the NSF to construct Zoology Addition I (1965). He was among the leaders in organizing and obtaining a multi-million dollar Centers of Excellence grant from the NSF, which provided for our interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Development Fund. This grant financed the strengthening of three targeted areas: Genetics, endocrinology and neurosciences (1967-1972). The grant also defrayed costs of remodeling the Zoology Annex to provide research space for our burgeoning faculty. The expansion continued with the construction of Zoology Addition II, financed with a grant from the NIH, that provided space for specialized, jointly-used research equipment, as well as for several state-of-the-art teaching laboratories (completed in 1971). Starting the 1971-72 academic year, Zoology extended around two sides of the block bordered by Jefferson and Dubuque Streets, as well as the block’s interior.

His subsequent administrative/scientific contribution was to help gather like-minded neuroscientists across campus to obtain one of the first Program Project Grants from the NIH. This supported research around the theme, generation of nerve cell form and function. Dr. Kollros took over as Principal Investigator of the grant in 1983 and led it through a renewal. In his academic career, he guided 24 students to the Ph.D, and 32 to the M.S. degree. To recognize his many achievements, the Biology auditorium in the newest of our buildings (Biology Building East) was named in his honor (2001).

Dr. Catherine Kollros preceded her husband in death. They are survived by two sons, James and Peter, daughter-in-law Barbara and two grandchildren, Daniel and Catherine. He will be sorely missed by his immediate family, his academic family and the scientific community.