Nobel Prize-winner Thomas Steitz will return to his alma mater to deliver the commencement address at Lawrence University’s graduation ceremonies June 13, 2010.
Steitz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lawrence in 1962, was named one of three winners of the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry Oct. 7 for his research describing the structure and function of ribosomes. He will receive his Nobel Prize medal Dec. 10 during ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.
“We are delighted and honored that our distinguished alumnus is making a visit to Lawrence part of his extremely busy schedule,” said Lawrence President Jill Beck. “We look forward to welcoming Dr. Steitz back to campus in June. The seniors in the Class of 2010 should have a very exciting commencement ceremony.”
In a letter to President Beck, Steitz said he would rearrange plans to be in Europe so he could attend the June exercises.
“I have decided that it is very important for me to accept your invitation for next spring’s commencement,” Steitz wrote. “My years at Lawrence were of such great importance to me and my life and I feel I must pay tribute to Lawrence.”
Steitz credits his Lawrence education for setting him “on the right path.”
“It gave me an appreciation about how to think about answering questions,” said Steitz. “I was taught how to put things together, how to integrate information. I think that has been an important contributor all along.”
The Nobel Prize recognized Steitz’ decades-long research on the structure and function of the ribosome, which transforms encoded DNA information into proteins central to all of life’s functions. To determine its structure, he used the technique known as X-ray crystallography to map the position of each of the more than 100,000 individual atoms that make up the ribosome. His research has helped scientists develop new generations of antibiotics.
A native of Milwaukee and a graduate of Wauwatosa High School, Steitz is the Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and professor of chemistry at Yale University, where he has taught since 1970. He also is an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
After graduating cum laude from Lawrence, Steitz earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Yale faculty, Steitz worked at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.
Earlier this month, Lawrence announced it would rename its newest science building “Thomas Steitz Science Hall” in honor of the Nobel Prize-winning alumnus.