It is with great sadness that Institut Curie, CNRS (French National Scientific Research Center), Sorbonne University and Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL Research University) announce the passing of Maxime Dahan, CNRS Research Director and Director of the Institut Curie/CNRS/Sorbonne University Physical Chemistry Unit (UMR 168). Maxime passed away suddenly on Sunday, July 29th, at the age of 46.
Since 2013, Maxime had headed the Curie Physical Chemistry Unit, which was located in the historic Institut Curie building where Marie Curie worked. The goal of the unit is to uncover the role of physical-chemical laws governing the functioning of living organisms. At the interface of physics, chemistry and biology, the Physical Chemistry Unit is, in many respects, emblematic of the Curie spirit and cross-disciplinary approach – a legacy of its founder.
“Maxime himself symbolized the institute, which was founded by a two-time Nobel laureate in physics and chemistry,” says Thierry Philip, Chairman of Institut Curie’s Management Board. “Ever since he joined the institute in 2013, Maxime significantly contributed to its scientific clout. He was a great leader and above all, a very fine person.”
After a brilliant academic career at L’Ecole Polytechnique and L’Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) [elite professional schools], Maxime spent 12 years at the ENS Kastler Brossel laboratory. CNRS awarded him a bronze medal in 2006. He then continued his research at the Janelia Farm Research Center outside Washington D.C. for two years before joining Institut Curie in January 2013.
Since joining the institute, Maxime brought a whole new perspective to the cross-disciplinary approach that was already deeply rooted in the unit by reaching out to the medical field. Working with one of his unit’s teams, he used virtual reality tools to explore cells and tissues in 3D. He also attracted young, highly talented researchers to the unit, including Leila Perié, whose research combines immunology, physics and mathematics, and Antoine Coulon, who focuses on spatio-temporal fluctuations in gene expression. Maxime was always open to innovation in all areas, which included bringing Antoine on-board to create the first joint team between two Research Center units. Just as Institut Curie had been the pioneer in combining physics and biology, Maxime aimed to lay the groundwork for an interaction between physics and clinical practice that would provide a new perspective on cancer as well as innovative treatments.
“Maxime Dahan was a prominent researcher in his field,” says Geneviève Amouzni, Director of The Research Center. “He was a recognized expert in new approaches to imaging and made significant contributions to its development, including a major impact on super-resolution imaging. It’s a great loss for humanity and science.”
Since 2016, Maxime served as coordinator of the European Magneuron project, which involves activating nanoparticles with magnetic fields, an area he excelled in; the goal was to prevent the nerve cell breakdown seen in such diseases as Parkinson’s. His innovative and promising idea was to take skin cell scrapings from patients, transform them into neurons and add magnetic nanoparticles before reinjecting them into patients’ brains. The neurons are then accurately and magnetically drawn to the afflicted areas.
Maxime’s colleagues will do everything possible to continue his work with the help of Axel Buguin, Assistant Unit Director.