Lewis Nelson Lukens



Middletown, Conn.

Lewis Nelson Lukens died on Sept. 8, 2018, at his home in Middletown, Conn., with his wife of over 54 years, Ellen, and children at his bedside. He was 91 years old.

Lew was a professor of biochemistry at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., from 1966 until his retirement in 1999. He worked first in the biology department and then as one of the founding members of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. He taught both undergraduate and graduate students and led research teams investigating the regulation and chemistry of collagen, a fibrous protein constituent of cartilage, tendon and skin. Lew studied and did research at the University of Pennsylvania and MIT, and received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954.

Lew was born on Jan. 21, 1927, the son of Lewis N. Lukens Jr. and Lorraine Disston Lukens, of Philadelphia. His college education was delayed by World War II. Rated 4H for military service due to poor eyesight, Lew joined the American Friends Services Committee and was trained as an ambulance driver and medic. Lew arrived back in the United States in November 1945. Lew then attended Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude in 1949 with a BA in Greek and French, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduating, he attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School but after a short time enrolled in Penn’s new biochemistry department. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1954, and became a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University from 1954 to 1958. From 1958 to 1965, Lew was on the faculty at Yale Medical School, after which he joined the faculty at Wesleyan University. In addition to teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, Lew published numerous papers with assistance from his students and received many research grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture. He also served on the Committee on Graduate Instruction and, in his retirement, served on the Advisory Board of the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty at Wesleyan.

Lew had a lifelong love of the Maine coast, where he spent summers as a child and with his family. He worked to restore trails in Acadia National Park, and he was an avid birder and gardener. Lew was a member of the local Audubon Society and served on the Middletown (Conn.) Wetlands Commission for eight years after his retirement. He was also a member of local and national scientific organizations.

Lew is survived by his wife, Ellen, and their four children: Katherine Lukens, of Hamden, Conn.; Marie Lukens Hansen of Durham, N.C.; Ellen Lukens Sisson of Chevy Chase, Md.; and Lewis N. Lukens Jr. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and nine grandchildren. Memorial donations may be made to the Wesleyan University Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemisty in Lew’s name or to the Land and Garden Preserve of Seal Harbor. Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at the Wesleyan Memorial Chapel on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 2 p.m.