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In Memoriam

In Memory of Maria C. Linder

Maria C. Linder.
Photo by Greg Andersen

Maria C. Linder, an internationally recognized scientist and mentor to countless students at California State University Fullerton, died September 25th, 2022, following a stroke. She was 83.

Maria grew up in New York City and received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1960 from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, where she studied enzymology of the liver. In 1968, Maria carried out postdoctoral research in ferritin structure and function in the laboratory of Hamish Munro in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. In 1971, Maria became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science—one of only seven women among 700 faculty at MIT at the time—and rose to Associate Professor in 1974. In 1977, Maria joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University Fullerton (CSUF), where she remained for 45 years. She served as Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at CSUF from 2004–2010.

Over a scientific career that spanned five decades, Maria was known for her many contributions to iron and copper metabolism, and how their perturbation affects physiology. Her works include two books, the textbook Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism (1985, 1991) and the monograph Biochemistry of Copper (1991). Her biochemical studies on ferritin provided an understanding of the heterogeneity of ferritins in tissues and serum and their responses to iron. Maria’s interests in copper metabolism ranged from studies of ceruloplasmin function to the mechanisms of copper absorption, secretion, and excretion.

She served as Executive Editor for Analytical Biochemist and as a member of the Editorial Board for Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. She has served on review panels for the National Institutes of Health, the National Research Council, and the National Science Foundation Minority Graduate Fellowship Program.

Maria made an indelible imprint in her mentorship of undergraduates and graduate students at CSUF, many of whom have gone on to carve out successful scientific careers. From 2008 to 2017, Maria  directed the CSUF Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Research Scholars Program that supported first-generation college students and undergraduates from underrepresented minority groups who have interests in biomedical sciences.

Maria was not just a scientific mentor to her students—as one student of over 30 years writes—she was a life mentor. She thought about nature, hiking, horses, music, and mostly how to be excited about life and to be curious. Gatherings at her house and weekend trips to her favorite mountain getaway—in addition to her scientific teaching—were the students’ favorites and were what distinguished her from other mentors: Maria was invested in them. She adored teaching and was always there for her students, whether in the classroom, in the lab, or in life. She never lost touch with her many students and served as their life coach. She created a “home” for many.

Numbered among Maria’s many honors for student mentorship and research service at CSUF, are the College of Natural Science and Mathematics Outstanding Research Award; the L. Donald Shields Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activity; the Outstanding Professor Award; the prestigious California State University Wang Family Excellence Award; and the American Chemical Society Award for Research at an undergraduate institution. Maria was named the college’s Distinguished Faculty Member.
Maria passed away an active scientist. She submitted a review article just days before her death.

Maria is preceded in death by her husband Gordon Nielson and is survived by her stepson Eric Nielsen, four grandchildren, a sister Renate, and several nieces and nephews. Maria will be missed dearly by her recent and former students, colleagues at CSUF, friends and the BioIron community.

Prepared by Elizabeth Leibold (University of Utah) with contributions from Navid Madani (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School) and Bryan Mackenzie (University of Cincinnati).

posted: January 26, 2023