Dr. Marian Diamond poses with a human brain.
Image credit: Elena Zhukova

The Lawrence Hall of Science community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Marian Diamond on July 25th. As professor emerita of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and former director of the Hall, Dr. Diamond was a renowned neuroscientist and staunch advocate for science education. Her contributions to the Hall and to her field cannot be overstated, and she will be missed.

Dr. Diamond’s research fundamentally changed the field of neuroscience by proving the plasticity of the human brain for the first time. She discovered that an enriched environment actually alters the anatomy of the brain. Dr. Diamond subsequently showed that the brain continues to adapt and develop well into adulthood. This ran counter to the contemporary paradigm in neuroscience of the brain as a static organ that deteriorates over time.

In addition to her groundbreaking research, Dr. Diamond was well known for her dedication to educating and inspiring the next generation of scientists. Almost everywhere she went, she carried a flowered hat box containing a preserved human brain, always ready to teach should the opportunity arise.

Dr. Diamond served as director of the Lawrence Hall of Science from 1990 to 1996. Thanks to her work studying the plasticity of the brain, she understood the importance of creating an enriching learning environment for young people. During her tenure at the Hall, Dr. Diamond oversaw the development of math and science curricula that reached students across the nation and around the world.

The Hall still bears the fruit of her labor as director in the form of the DNA sculpture that sits on our plaza. Dr. Diamond was integral in its creation, from inception to completion. “I wanted new exhibits, suggested a large neuron for children to climb upon,” she wrote in the winter 1993 issue of The LHS Quarterly. “But why not begin with the basis of all living things?” Thanks to the generous support of Kenneth Hofmann, she was able to work with artist Michael Jantzen to realize her vision for the DNA Climbing Structure. The sculpture rumbled up Centennial Drive on a flatbed truck for installation on the Hall’s plaza in May 1993, where it stands to this day. It is estimated that more than 3 million visitors have climbed on the DNA in the past 25 years.

Dr. Diamond also oversaw the development of a new permanent exhibit at the Hall in 1990, called Within the Human Brain. In the exhibit, which also travelled nationwide, visitors learned about how the brain makes connections with the rest of the body. The exhibit offered a glimpse of new technologies used to image the brain, with regular public demonstrations and a digital tour of the brain at the microscopic level.

“Marian Diamond made an indelible mark on me as a professional, and had a profound impact on our work at the Hall,” says Susan Gregory, deputy director of the Hall. “She shared her personal story of how hard it had been for her, as a woman, to move forward in science, and championed the Hall’s programs to support girls and others who are underrepresented in the sciences. She continually challenged Hall staff to learn something new each day, and to share it with our colleagues, visitors, and everyone we met. Dr. Diamond will be missed, but her impact will always be here, to be shared with everyone we serve.”

To learn more about Dr. Diamond's indelible legacy, check out the PBS documentary My Love Affair with the Brain

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