posted November 4, 2013

Hope hosts Nobel Laureate Today

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dr. Thomas R. Cech will present two lectures at Hope College on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 14-15.

He will discuss “Exploring the Edges:  Models for Interdisciplinary Research and Education” on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. through this year’s Gentile Interdisciplinary Lectureship.  He will present “Crawling Out of the RNA World:  From Ribozymes to Telomerase” on Friday, Nov. 15, at 3 p.m. through the college’s new Visscher Lectureship in genetics.  Both addresses will be in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall.

The public is invited.  Admission is free.

Cech is a Distinguished Professor in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder; director of the university’s BioFrontiers Institute; and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), of which he is a past president.  He shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery that RNA in living cells is not only a genetic messenger but can also function as a catalyst.

He graduated from Grinnell College with a chemistry major in 1970. He completed his doctorate in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975, and subsequently held a post-doctoral position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cech joined the University of Colorado, Boulder as a faculty member in 1978 and has served as Distinguished Professor since 1990.  He was president of the HHMI, a nonprofit medical research organization headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., that ranks as one of the nation’s largest philanthropies, from January 2000 to April 2009.

He returned to the University of Colorado-Boulder full-time in 2009, when he also became director of the BioFrontiers Institute.  Also in 2009 he resumed serving as an HHMI Investigator, a position which he previously held from 1988 to 2000.

In addition to his Nobel Prize, national and international awards that Cech has received include recognition as a Guggenheim Fellow, the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry (1985), the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, a Lifetime Professorship from the American Cancer Society, the Heineken Prize of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the National Medal of Science.  He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the European Molecular Biology Organization and the American Philosophical Society.  He has also received honorary degrees from both Grinnell College and the University of Chicago.

The Gentile Interdisciplinary Lectureship at Hope was established in 2005 by faculty colleagues, former students and friends of Dr. James Gentile. Gentile joined the Hope faculty in 1976 and served as dean for the natural sciences from 1988 to 2005, was president of Research Corporation for Science Advancement in Tucson, Ariz., from 2005 until retiring this summer, and has returned to Hope as dean and professor of biology for the next two years.

The Dr. Harrison C. Visscher ’51 and Dr. Robert D. Visscher ’51 Lectureship in Genetics, which was created to bring recognized scholars in the field of genetics to campus, is premiering with Cech’s visit.  The annual lectureship was established by Dr. Harrison C. Visscher and Dr. Robert D. Visscher, 1951 Hope graduates and twin brothers who each pursued careers in medicine.  They practiced obstetrics and gynecology together for almost 20 years in Grand Rapids, and in 1965 initiated an obstetrics and gynecology residency training program at Blodgett Memorial Medical Center and Saint Mary’s Hospital.  Harrison Visscher’s career included 15 years in Washington, D.C., as director of education for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Robert Visscher’s career included starting the first in vitro fertilization program in 1982 in western Michigan and serving as executive director of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.  Both now live in Holland.

Graves Hall is located at 263 College Ave., between 10th and 12th streets.