Symposium honors the life and work of the late John B. Little

John B. ittle and Joseph Brain
The late John B. Little, left, speaks with Joseph Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, at the 2019 John B. Little Symposium.

November 2, 2020 – More than 200 people gathered virtually on October 30, 2020 for the 23rd annual John B. Little Symposium to honor the legacy of radiobiology expert John B. Little and to share research on the health effects of radiation.

Little, AB ’51, James Stevens Simmons Professor of Radiobiology Emeritus in the Department of Molecular Metabolism at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, passed away in May.

In opening remarks, Zhi-Min Yuan, Morningside Professor of Radiobiology and director of the John B. Little Center for Radiation Sciences at Harvard Chan School, noted that the annual symposium is “a wonderful tradition at the School” and that this year’s event, the first without Little’s presence, was particularly meaningful. He said that Little’s legacy will live on in the minds and work of many for years to come.

The John B. Little Center supports cutting-edge biological, physical, and population-based epidemiological research to understand, interpret, and estimate the health effects of radiation to pave the way for effective preventive and therapeutic strategies. The center was established in 1997 to honor Little, an international figure in the field of radiobiology and mentor to more than 250 scientists and clinicians throughout his career.

Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams thanked supporters of the center and praised Little’s “legacy of scientific excellence and dedicated mentoring.”

She noted that radiation can be either a cause or a cure for cancer. “The biological effects of radiation remain incompletely understood,” she said. “By including perspectives drawn from mechanistic, epidemiological, and translational studies, this symposium embodies a theme that resonates with one of the greatest strengths of our School: weaving together diverse disciplines and modes of research to address complex public health problems.”

Sally Amundson, SD ’92, a former graduate student of Little’s and now associate professor of radiation oncology at Columbia University, presented a video tribute to Little and his career. Harvard Chan School’s Zachary Nagel and Kristopher Sarosiek, both assistant professors of radiation biology, served as moderators for the symposium, which featured presentations from four radiobiology scientists from across the country.

Jan Reiss