Aaron was an eminent scientist and prominent force in stimulating the growth of biomedical sciences research in New Jersey. As the founding director of CABM, he took the vision of the state’s great scientific minds at the Commission on Science and Technology and built New Jersey’s strongest academic research facility dedicated to virology, biophysical science, cell development and cancer biology. His own vision helped construct, from the ground up, both the building itself and the scientific teams it houses. At CABM, Aaron cultivated an environment of respect, open discourse on education and scientific training, and most importantly collaboration.
Aaron’s impact on Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers University can be measured by the hundreds of medical students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have graced the laboratories at CABM and moved on to successful careers. His innovation, intellect and candor attracted talented junior faculty, who, through his mentorship, and that of CABM’s senior investigators, have become internationally-recognized scientists in their own right. He aggressively recruited esteemed faculty who chose to join a young and growing Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and an established and expanding Rutgers life sciences community solely for the opportunity to work for and with him.
Aaron was mentored by a Nobel Laureate, proving his substance as a young, pragmatic investigator. He trained and worked at the nation’s most prestigious research facilities: the NIH, the Salk Institute, The Rockefeller University. His zeal for science led to the discovery of mRNA capping and other fundamental contributions to gene expression mechanisms in animal cells and viruses.
In addition to his scientific research contributions, Aaron served on numerous national and international scientific advisory boards. He was the founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal Molecular and Cellular Biology.
In honor of his scientific achievements, Aaron was recognized with the U.S. Steel Award in Molecular Biology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Thomas Alva Edison Science Award, the New Jersey Pride Award in Science and Technology, and the Association of American Medical Colleges 2003 Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences, as well as the Outstanding Medical Research Scientist Award for Basic Biomedical Research by the Edward J. Ill Excellence in Medicine Foundation. In 2008, he was named one of New Jersey’s Top 10 Scientists by New Jersey Business. His alma mater, Bowdoin College, granted him an Honorary Doctorate of Science in recognition of his work. Aaron was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the N.Y. Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Despite his scientific achievements and uncompromising leadership, Aaron was humble in nature and exuded a humorous, fun spirit. This was evident at the school’s inaugural Scholarship Gala in 2011 where Aaron received the Honorary Alumni Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Alumni Association. His acceptance speech was the highlight of the evening, filled with warmth for his family, colleagues and students.
Aaron had a profound effect on the scientific community, as evidenced by his scientific breakthroughs and by those of his investigators. He championed funding support which has grown to nearly $20 million annually in 25 short years. Under his leadership, discoveries by CABM scientists have increased our understanding of many challenging diseases which are leading to new therapies for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, childhood neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.
He was a passionate scientist, admired mentor, valued colleague and a caring friend. Aaron was predeceased by his wife, Joan, and is survived by his son, Greg, of San Francisco; brother, Leon Shatkin; and sisters, Frances Yarlas and Marla Shatkin-Margolis.
Visitation will be held Thursday, June 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Memorial Funeral Home, 155 South Ave., Fanwood, NJ. A service will be held Friday, June 8, at 11 a.m. at the funeral home. Interment will follow at Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains. A memorial service honoring Aaron's life and career will be planned for July.
Please join us in expressing our sincerest sympathy to his family and colleagues. Aaron will be greatly missed.
Dr. Richard Edwards
Interim Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Peter S. Amenta, MD, PhD
UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School