This web site [conveniently found at] to honor the memory of Michael Bárány was set up toward the end of July 2011 and is a work in progress (most recent update July 2012). Please bear with us as we gather photographic, audio, and video materials and set up links. Many of the print obituaries will not accommodate Hungarian accents. Please report any problems to our webmaster, Eric Schulz. The long obituary that appears below was drafted in 2004 by Michael himself, and edited further in 2011 by family members. Following the obituary are sections entitled "more information," "obituaries and memorials for Michael Bárány," "various anecdotes involving Michael Bárány," and "family photos."

George Barany, on behalf of the Barany family

Michael Bárány (1921-2011)

Michael Bárány, professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine, died peacefully in his sleep on July 24, 2011 in St. Paul, MN, at age 89. Best known for his work establishing the physiology of fast- and slow-twitch muscles, Bárány was later among the first to study live tissue using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, a forerunner to MRI. 

“The passing of Michael Bárány, a consummate scientist and educator, marks the end of a remarkable era in muscle biochemistry and physiology,” said R. John Solaro, Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at UIC. “His contributions were seminal in developing our understanding of the coupling between ATP breakdown and contraction in all types of muscle.  In hands-on work in the lab, Michael pioneered methods, including NMR, in integrating this information into functioning muscle.  His warmth, generosity, depth of knowledge, and enthusiasm will be sorely missed.” Another UIC colleague, Mrinalini (Meena) C. Rao, notes “Michael Barany was brilliant, an astute observer, courteous and ever the gentleman, generous with his time and retaining the insatiable curiosity that characterizes the best students.”

David D. Thomas, William F. Dietrich Professor and Head of the University of Minnesota Muscle Laboratory, referring as well to Michael's late wife Kate, observed that “... the Báránys provided inspiration for several generations of muscle researchers. Personally, I have been astounded by the number of fundamental discoveries they made in muscle biochemistry and biophysics that have informed my own work. They did not just lead by example – they also provided direct personal encouragement to me and countless other muscle biochemists, to take risks and ask the most difficult and important questions.”  

Born on October 29, 1921, to Jewish farmer Jozsef Fried and his wife Angyalka Schlichter, Michael showed early promise in his studies but was prevented from pursuing  a higher education due to enrollment quotas aimed at Jews.  During the second World War, he was drafted into a military work camp and subsequently (in December 1944) deported to Buchenwald.  The concentration camp was liberated in 1945 and, after a debilitating hospitalization for tuberculosis, Bárány returned to Hungary to begin his medical education at the University of Budapest that Fall with financial support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Bárány long regretted having been unable to convince his parents to go into hiding as the war approached, which he believed might have spared them their fates as Holocaust victims.

Bárány’s medical studies were interrupted by a recurrence of tuberculosis that required placement in a sanitorium, but while there he arranged to observe surgeries and he emerged from treatment ready to take his medical exams after a further year of frenetic studying. Bárány received his M.D. in 1951, by which time he had already begun working toward his doctorate in the Department of Biochemistry headed by the legendary F.B. Straub who some years prior had discovered actin, a key contractile protein of muscle.  By developing a specific method (involving precipitation with magnesium ions) to produce actin with unprecedented purity, Bárány provided the first evidence that actin itself, and not some external enzyme, catalyzed the ATP to ADP transformation of the protein during its polymerization from g (globular) to f (fibrous).  This work earned Bárány a Ph.D. in 1956.

In 1949, Michael married Kate Fóti, an aspiring physicist and fellow Holocaust survivor who would become his lifelong collaborator (scientific and otherwise). While there was a chance encounter in June (Michael administered first aid when Kate cut her finger while slicing a loaf of bread) and the civil ceremony occurred in October, the essential courtship of Michael and Kate occurred over the four-day period August 1-4 at a student retreat sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and these days were the anniversary they celebrated for the next six decades. Their life-long partnership resulted in many joint publications (72 full papers and 12 book chapters) and two scientist sons.

The Bárány couple was among the group of university students whose October 1956 march helped spark the Hungarian Revolution. Unable to teach under Communist rule because of his father's pre-war landholder status, Bárány saw an opportunity to flee the country early in 1957 by walking 10 miles through the snow-covered border with his then-pregnant wife and toddler son. After a brief tour as a refugee, Bárány considered himself fortunate to find a position working with Ephraim Katchalski in the Biophysics Department of the Weizmann Institute in Israel.  Here, Bárány continued his studies of the structure and function of muscle contractile proteins, showing that the ATPase and the actin-binding sites of myosin were distinct. He relished the opportunity to access the Institute's library of Western journals and its state-of-the-art laboratory equipment.

Anxious to move faster with his research than the situation at Weizmann would allow, Bárány arranged to relocate to the Max Planck Institute, in Heidelberg, Germany to work with Professor Hans Weber, then the preeminent muscle biochemist in Europe.  There, Bárány discovered a means of using urea to reversibly inhibit muscle contraction and used this method to make a series of breakthroughs relating to the role of actin in muscle contraction.  This work earned him international recognition and led to an invitation late in 1959 to head a department at the Institute for Muscle Disease, which had just been established in New York City by the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America.  In 1960, he, Kate, and their two young sons immigrated to America, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the S.S. Hanseatic.

While in New York, Bárány made his most acclaimed discovery, finding a relationship between the speed of muscle contraction and the actin-activated ATPase activity of the myosin molecules in muscle.  The 1967 J. General Physiology paper in which this work was described was cited over 1700 times and was chosen as a Citation Classic by the Institue for Scientific Information. This groundbreaking characterization of “fast-twitch” and “slow-twitch” muscles was followed by experiments in collaboration with Russell Close from Australia showing that fast muscle could be changed into slow muscle and vice versa through cross-innervation, the first example of the neural influence on gene expression in muscle.  Further studies allowed him to suggest that conformational changes in myosin are the driving force for muscle contraction.

This work stopped with the sudden and unexpected closing in 1974 of the Institute for Muscle Disease, after which Michael and Kate Bárány found a new home in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine.There, he quickly became a leader in the emerging field of biological nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and was the first researcher in the United States to conduct studies of live tissue with these methods (click here for a photo). Bárány's co-authored 1977 Science review of biological 31P NMR techniques was instrumental in sparking the development of non-invasive magnetic resonance diagnostic technologies, leading to the MRI methods that are now routinely used in modern medicine.

Bárány continued to study live muscle tissue using NMR, sorting out metabolites in healthy and diseased tissues, and contributed to the medical adaptation of the technology.  By the end of the 1980's, however, increasingly powerful instruments and methods began to make his diagnostic expertise less necessary and he decided to renew his collaboration with Kate with an investigation of protein phosphorylation.  Together, they discovered that myosin light chain phosphorylation was a prerequisite for smooth muscle contraction. Michael's work continued, albeit at a slightly reduced pace, after he reached the UIC's mandatory retirement age in 1992 (two years before the rules were changed), and he continued to make discoveries and to author papers (click here and here) well into the start of the 21st century.

Bárány's more than half-century-long scientific career resulted in some 190 peer-reviewed publications (164 full papers and 26 book chapters) and several foundational discoveries. His approach to science was highly original and innovative, and he was not at all reluctant to roll up his sleeves and carry out experiments and run equipment with his own hands. All told, he trained 9 Ph.D. students and 38 postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have gone on to significant careers of their own in the United States and abroad. Bárány was a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Physiological Society, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), the Biophysical Society [which named him a Fellow in 2006, the Society's highest honor], the Cardiac Muscle Society, and the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. Bárány was also a member of national research committees, served on the editorial board of journals, edited the definitive book “Biochemistry of Smooth Muscle Contraction” (Academic Press) and its corresponding teaching website, and  was section editor of the “Textbook Online” of the Biophysical Society. He organized several symposia at national meetings. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, he was elected as a Distinguished Faculty of the Medical College, as Scholar of the University, and as President of the Scholar Society. Admiring colleagues wrote that Bárány’s scholarship and teaching were matched only by his role as the “conscience of excellence” of his home department.

The Barany family has always been very close knit. Both sons regularly came to their parents’ laboratories through much of their childhoods. For recreation, the family subscribed to the New York City Opera and the New York City Ballet, and convened for a weekly tennis doubles match. George entered the Ph.D. program at The Rockefeller University in New York at the age of 16, while Francis at age 17 was featured on the cover of The New York Times magazine as “Lord of the Venus’ Flytraps.” Currently, both are professors, George Barany in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities and Francis Barany in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City.

Michael and Kate supported awards at UIC, at the University of Minnesota, and with the Biophysical Society – their common thread was to recognize and honor students and scientists at early stages of their advanced education or professional careers. Michael was generally reserved on the subject of his Holocaust experiences, but agreed to sit for a lengthy interview that was part of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation project. Michael had an insightful sense of humor that came through even when not speaking his mother tongue, and a fierce sense of justice.

Michael and Kate Bárány were invited to write their autobiography for the “Selected Topics in the History of Biochemistry” (an Elsevier series). Their chapter, entitled “Strife and Hope in the Lives of a Scientific Couple,” was published in 2000. Until their illnesses, the pair regularly walked to and from work together, and were known around campus as “the professors who held hands.”  Kate preceded Michael in death by six weeks, and Michael’s last utterance was “Kati”, his nickname for her.

Michael and Kate are survived by their sons George (Barbara) and Francis (Rachel), and their grandchildren Michael, Deborah, Isabelle, and Lilly.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Michael and Kate Bárány Research Award, which honors graduating M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. students for outstanding research achievements. Checks for “UIF-Michael and Kate Bárány Award” mailed to University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 W. Green Street, Urbana, IL 61801. Alternatively, online giving can be conducted by clicking here, enter “UIF-Michael and Kate Bárány Award #771777” in one of the boxes marked “other”, then hit “continue” at bottom of page. Questions, call 217-333-0675. UPDATED (March 2012): The family prefers that you support the “Barany Awards Supplementation Fund (Account #337535)” -- other aspects of making donation are the same.

More information may be found at:

Michael & Kate Bárány Home Page from 2006
Home page of Michael and Kate Bárány, with biographical information, most important publications, and interesting links. Compiled in 2006, primarily by MB, and not updated other than to note their deaths and refer to the present page for Michael and the corresponding one for Kate.

Symposium in Tribute to Professors Michael and Kate Bárány - May 11, 1996
Introductory remarks by Donald A. Chambers run about 15 min; rest of the link is the scientific lecture of R. John Solaro. which has a few personal remarks right after the start before the scientific portion of his talk begins (and apologies for a buzz that goes through part of that section). Click here for Symposium program, and here for a gallery of photographs.

Vistas in Genetic Analysis
Lecture (28 min) by Francis Barany at Symposium in Tribute to Professors Michael and Kate Bárány, starts at the 5 min mark, following introduction by Donald Chambers. Personal reminiscences included.

A Tapestry of Protein Science
Lecture (23 min) by George Barany on May 11, 1996 at Symposium in Tribute to Professors Michael and Kate Bárány. Personal reminiscences included, and here is a link to the slides that were shown (unfortunately, not in sequence). The final 6 min of the tape are moderated by Don Chambers, and include brief but touching remarks by both Kate and Michael.

Interview of Michael Bárány on August 4, 1999
Total 33 min. The day of his 50th anniversary, Michael was interviewed by his daughter-in-law Rachel Conescu Barany.

Sixty Interesting Facts about the Number Sixty
Presented to Michael and Kate Bárány on the occasion of their 60th anniversary.

Michael and Kate Bárány Award for Young Investigators (1998)
A joint biographical sketch of Michael and Kate Bárány, written by Sarah Hitchcock-Degregori and published in the Biophysical Society newsletter.

Obituaries and memorials for Michael Bárány: search for "Michael Barany" without accents, and it will link you to five published obituaries in newspapers: The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and St. Paul Pioneer Press. Here is a link to a longer obituary in the UIC News.

Guestbook link (guestbook comments associated with any of the five obituaries merge into a single document, which has been captured here as a pdf)

This article, written in Fall 2011 by Paul Hagen of the Episcopal Church Home in St. Paul, describes the dramatic final months of the Báránys.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine held a "Tribute to Kate & Michael Bárány: Hope Conquers Strife. Their Science and Legacy" on April 9, 2012. Link to the complete audio is here and photos taken at the event are here. Former Board of Trustees Secretary Michelle Thompson spoke on "Kate and Michael Bárány - Service to the University." Michael J. Barany spoke on "Rigor, Intuition, and My Scientific Grandparents' Legacy" which included the following slides. Another highlight was this poem about the Báránys that was written and read by Mark Rasenick.

On April 20, 2012, George Barany spoke at the Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul on "The Spirit of Survival: Lessons from Holocaust Survivors." A full transcript is here. Link to video of George Barany's sermon here.

On Sunday morning, July 22, 2012, the cremains of Michael and Kate were interred at Mt. Zion Cemetery in St. Paul, and a memorial stone was unveiled. Daniel Nack conducted the service, Deborah Barany gave the eulogy, and additional remarks were made by Mariano Rivera, and read from Judit Taylor and from Suzanna Lengyel.

The Episcopal Church Home held a dedication of the Michael & Kate Bárány May House Courtyard on July 22, 2012, as documented here (print) and here (13-minute video). George Barany's welcoming remarks, which include thanks to all who cared for our parents in their final days, are here. The courtyard was designed by Ned Souder, who describes his vision here.

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota held a dedication of the Kate & Michael Bárány Conference Room on July 23, 2012. Here is the program, and here is a powerpoint slide show that was playing in the background. In addition, George Barany and friends constructed two crossword puzzles specifically for the occasion. Pictures and other documentation from the event will be posted shortly.

A special issue of the Journal of Muscle Research and Cell Motility, edited by Joseph Chalovich, will appear in the summer of 2012, dedicated to the Báránys' memories.

Various anecdotes involving Michael Bárány:

Back when George was maybe 9 or 10 years old, and his brother Francis of course two years younger, we took a family vacation at a modest resort in the Catskills. The drive was short enough that our father came up only on weekends. There was a small pond, and Francis caught a frog, which Dad opened up to show the beating heart, etc. When Dad was done with the demonstration, Mom used black thread from her sewing kit to repair the scission, and then Francis threw the frog back into the pond. About a week later, he caught the same frog, easily identifiable by the black thread.

Eric Gaetjens tells the following story:  One time, a technician had a “too-good-to-be-true” lab result.  Upon hearing the news, Michael announced that he was going straight to the lab to try to repeat the experiment.  The technician asked, “Don’t you trust me?”  Michael replied, “My dear, I barely trust myself.”

Kate and Michael once hosted a dinner party at their apartment in Chicago, and a guest brought a bottle of wine. There was no corkscrew in the apartment, so they used a screwdriver and hammer from their tool box in order to open the bottle.

Michael’s standard-fare apparel for most of his adult professional life consisted of a suit, either gray or navy blue, and often including a vest, along with a white shirt, a nice tie that was usually solid red, and black shoes.  In 1994, Barbara won a major research award from Honeywell which included an all-expense paid trip for her and spouse to Hawaii, and we made a December family vacation out of it to which Michael and Kate invited themselves along.  So there we are, on our dream vacation, luxuriating on one of the many fabulous beaches on the Big Island, and Grandpa takes off his tie!

Based on Michael’s life experiences as a victim and refugee, it was natural that even in the security of his American homestead, he would want to keep cash on hand in the apartment he shared with Kate – many thousands of dollars in no denomination greater than $20.  Moreover, he invested in gold, specifically twenty coins engraved with the image of Louis Armstrong.  These were neatly compressed inside a single white sock, which was tied off at the end with a knot.  Now imagine this scene, George arrives to Chicago in mid-February 2011 on an emergency basis into an unsecured apartment, and finds three adjacent boxes, clearly labeled with a felt-tip marker, in the large walk-in closet off the master bedroom:  (1) “Kate’s white socks”, (2) “Michael’s black socks”, and (3) GOLD (much heavier than the other two.  In Barany family lore, this is known as the story of the Chicago Gold Sox (to go with the Chicago White Sox baseball team, which for one infamous year (2 years before Michael was born) was known as the Chicago Black Sox).

Did you know that two of Michael's mentors went on to become Presidents of their respective countries? Search: “Straub Hungary” and “Katzir Israel” if you don't believe us.

Family photos: (these are above and beyond some that were embedded in the earlier narrative) (more to come once we get better organized)

Michael as a young man:

Michael and the boys at a beach in Germany, circa 1959:

Taken circa 1975, after Kate and Michael moved to Chicago, on the lawn of
the "Campus Green" apartment complex:

Taken on the occasion of the marriage of George and Barbara, March 29, 1986:

Taken on the occasion of the marriage of Francis and Rachel, November 10, 1991:


Michael and Kate's four grandchildren, on family vacation in summer 1997:

The golden years ...

New York Baranys visit in summer of 2008:

Minnesota Baranys visit in summer of 2009:

Deborah shows Grandpa her Hamilton College graduation program, May 2011

Isabelle and Lilly visit on “Grand” Father's Day in St. Paul, June 2011


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