Biography of Herman Phaff

Herman J. Phaff - 1913 - 2001

Phaff's Google Scholar page lists research publications:

Herman Phaff with cello
Herman Phaff with cello

Born in Winschoten, the Netherlands in 1913, Herman Jan Phaff spent his childhood in the environment of his family's winery, which stimulated his interest in microorganisms and consequently had a strong impact on his later life. He attended the Technical University in Delft, where he earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering with a thesis on "The elaboration of extracellular pectin-hydrolyzing enzymes by fungi," a subject of importance to the wine industry.

In 1939, at the recommendation of renowned Dutch microbiologist A.J. Kluyver, Phaff came to California to pursue graduate study at UC Berkeley in the Division of Fruit Products, later know n as the Department of Food Technology. His initial research was done with Emil Mrak (later chancellor at UC Davis), and in his Ph.D. studies he worked under the direction of Maynard Joslyn and H.A. Barker. His research focused on yeast taxonomy, ecology and physiology. Phaff was studying in the United States during WWII; his brother, who fought in the Dutch resistance, was lost to the Nazi forces.

In 1943 Phaff accepted a faculty position at UC Berkeley, and he moved to UC Davis in 1954 when the Food Science department was transferred. In all, he was an active member of the University of California faculty for 58 years. During that time, he published two books and hundreds of research papers and was the recipient of numerous awards, including being named as University of California at Davis Faculty Research Lecturer in 1969. In 1985, Phaff co-authored a definitive bibliography of viticulture and enology publications with the distinguished professor Maynard Amerine.

Phaff Winery in Winschoten
Phaff Winery in Winschoten

Although he officially retired from full-time research in 1983, Phaff maintained a very active research laboratory. He continued daily study and work on a collection of over 6000 yeast strains, representing over 400 of the 700 known yeast species - many of which are available only from his collection. The collection contains the strains Phaff collected on global expeditions throughout his research career and also includes several hundred yeast strains collected in the 1930s by Professors Mrak and Cruess. Few microbial culture collections of this size and diversity have been collected and maintained by any institution, let alone by a single researcher. This collection is utilized by academic and industrial researchers throughout the world.

On October 4, 1996, the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology and the California Institute of Food And Agricultural Research (CIFAR) held a symposium presented in Phaff's honor, at which the The Herman J. Phaff Culture Collection: Yeasts and Yeast-Like Microorganisms as an official Biological Collection of the University of California was formally dedicated.

Phaff was also noted for his professional skill as a cellist and his passion for the arts and culture. He was a founding member of the Davis Comic Opera Company and the UCD symphony orchestra - playing it its inaugural concert in 1959 - and a dedicated player in chamber music groups in the Bay area and Davis for five decades. He was chairman of the Committee for Arts and Lectures at UC Davis and in 1960 was made an honorary member of the Music Department.

Herman Jan Phaff never stopped learning and seeking to enrich the scientific community, and the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection is the culmination of his life's work as a scientist. His legacy continues both through continuing research on his yeast cultures, and through the work of the dozens of noted microbiologists that received both training and inspiration while working in his laboratory.