In memoriam: John K. Belknap, Ph.D. (1943-2017)

Dr. John BelknapFebruary 28, 2017

The OHSU School of Medicine and the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience announce with great sadness that John Belknap, Ph.D., died suddenly and unexpectedly February 22, 2017. 

Dr. Belknap was a professor of behavioral neuroscience, OHSU School of Medicine, and a senior research career scientist at the VA Portland Health Care System. 

He earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. (1971) in psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He was one of the first graduates of both the new biopsychology program and the new Institute for Behavioral Genetics, where he studied with a pioneer in the field, Dr. Jerry McClearn. 

After a postdoctoral fellowship and a position as assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, Dr. Belknap moved to the Pharmacology Department at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. He became acting chair of that department until moving to Portland in 1988.

Dr. Belknap epitomized the pure basic scientist and was fascinated with data, the bigger the dataset, the better. He loved nothing better than helping anyone who asked to extract patterns and meaning from complicated data, a skill at which he was adept. His mouse behavioral laboratory work focused on studies of genetic contributions to the effects of drugs of abuse. He had been continuously funded by the NIAAA, NIDA and the VA since 1988 and was the heart of the original collaborative efforts underlying the Portland Alcohol Research Center (and, more recently, the Methamphetamine Abuse Research Center). His quantitative sophistication led many of his wide network of collaborators from Portland and many other research centers gently into the era of behavioral genomics. 

Dr. Belknap was one of the pioneers in developing and proving the idea that behavior was a complex trait, an idea now widely accepted and the forerunner of behavioral GWAS. However, despite his many contributions, John never looked for the limelight; he was the rare quiet scientist, despite his fame.

Besides his passion for data, he loved sailing and anything maritime, including the books of Patrick O'Brian. He was an astoundingly knowledgeable amateur astronomer. He loathed anything that even faintly resembled bureaucracy and avoided it religiously. His gentle presence will be sorely missed by his former students, laboratory assistants, and all those here and elsewhere who knew him. 

Planning discussions for a suitable event to commemorate his scientific career are underway, and details will follow at a later time.