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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bruce Alberts in Toronto

My Ph.D. supervisor, Bruce Alberts, was in Toronto yesterday to receive an honourary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Toronto. We had a nice luncheon in the Upper Library at Massey College. That's Bruce Alberts on the right and my former Ph.D. student and co-author Marc Perry on the left. Three "generations" of Ph.D.'s.

I'm sure three-generation pictures are quite common but four- and five-generation photographs are more unusual. Does anyone have one?

Following the luncheon we were off to the Chancellor's Office to get "gowned" for the graduation ceremony. Yesterday was graduation day for Ph.D. and Masters degree students.

The students were lined up to enter Convocation Hall. There were 391 of them and later on we waited while each one was called to the stage to receive their degree.

The procession of faculty was quite impressive with all the gowns, finery, pomp, and circumstance. Here we are (below) all dressed up on the stage of Convocation Hall. From left to right, Katherine Whiteside, Dean of Medicine; Bruce Alberts, convocation speaker and honourary degree recipient; Jack Petch, Chair Governing Council; David Peterson, Chancellor; David Naylor, President; Susan Pfeiffer, Dean School of Graduate Studies; and half of me on the end. On the right I'm delivering the citation for Bruce Alberts.

Here's part of what I said,
Bruce was very successful at Princeton where he made major advances in working out the mechanism of DNA replication, laying the groundwork for future recognition as an outstanding scientist. He has also contributed greatly to our understanding of chromosomes. In 1995 he came to Toronto to receive a Gairdner Award for his scientific achievements. He has published over 150 scientific papers.

Bruce moved to the University of California at San Francisco in 1976. He served as Chair of the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics during the time that it rose to become one of the leading biochemistry departments in the world. Bruce’s guidance and mentorship during that time contributed in no small part to the success of the department.

Among the many honours and awards he has received I’d like to single out a few others that relate to his scientific achievements. He holds an American Cancer Society Lifetime Research Professorship. He was elected to the American National Academy of Sciences in 1981. He is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (London) and many other international societies.

Bruce’s interest in science education was apparent from the beginning. In 1983 he and his colleagues published the very first edition of his famous textbook Alberts et al. The Molecular Biology of the Cell. The book has become familiar to students all around the world. The fifth edition is due to be published in just a few weeks. The Molecular Biology of the Cell set a standard for textbook writing that few other books have matched. I dare say many of the students here have taken at least one course that used his book.

In 1993, Bruce left San Francisco and moved to Washington to become President of the National Academy of Sciences—a post he held for twelve years. During that time he was “First Scientist” in the USA and, arguably, the most influential scientist in the world.

Bruce soon became known as the “Education President” for his efforts to improve science education beginning in kindergarten and the primary grades. He is highly respected for his tireless efforts in bettering science education and research policies in the USA and around the world. This effort has continued since he left Washington. He has received numerous awards for his achievements in education including Outstanding Volunteer Coordinator in California schools, the Leadership in Education Award from Keystone Center, the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Victor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize from the American Association for Developmental Biology.

There are even more awards and honours, for example Bruce Alberts is a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Outstanding scientist, caring mentor, renowned author, and distinguished educator.

Mr, Chancellor, on behalf of the Governing Council, I ask you to confer the degree of Doctor Of Science, honoris causa, upon Bruce Alberts.
After the graduation ceremony we came back to the Biochemistry Department for a reception in Bruce's honour. Many of the graduate and undergraduate students showed up with copies of their textbooks and Bruce was delighted to sign them.

We had a wonderful, but short, visit. I hope he comes back again real soon.

1 comment :

  1. I heard about this visit from Dr. Brown. but I didn't know you introduced him. I am sure it was fun. I wish I knew earlier, I would have come with my copy of CELL as well! :P