Lawrence University Honors Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Steitz by Renaming Science Building

Posted on: November 5th, 2009 by Rick Peterson

Since its opening nine years ago, Lawrence University’s newest academic building has been known simply as Science Hall. But it soon will bear the name of Lawrence’s 2009 Nobel Prize winner, Thomas Steitz.

Lawrence President Jill Beck has announced that the college’s Board of Trustees, at its recent fall meeting, voted unanimously to rename Science Hall as “Thomas Steitz Science Hall.” The building’s new name honors the 1962 Lawrence graduate who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry Oct. 7 for his research that revealed the structure and function of ribosomes.

An official renaming ceremony will be held at a date to be determined.

Tom-Stetiz2_web.jpg“This is a fitting way for Lawrence to recognize one of our most distinguished graduates, by naming for Dr. Steitz the facility in which our current students are learning cutting-edge science,” said Beck. “His dedication and accomplishments serve as inspiration to all of our young, aspiring scientists. Having the building they learn and conduct research in bear his name will motivate them to consider all that is possible in their own careers.”

The naming announcement is especially fitting since Steitz was the invited keynote speaker for the building’s official dedication ceremonies in October 2000.

“I was truly amazed to hear from President Beck that Lawrence is going to name its new science building after me,” said Steitz, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Wauwatosa High School. “This is, indeed, a great honor from a university to which I owe so much.”

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. His Nobel Prize honored his decades-long research on the structure and function of the ribosome, which transforms DNA into proteins central to life functions.

After graduating cum laude from Lawrence with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, 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.

The building name is just the latest accolade for Steitz from his alma mater. In 1981, Lawrence awarded Steitz an honorary doctorate of science degree and recognized him with its Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002.

Finished in 2000 after two years of construction, the $18.1 million, 78,000-square-foot science building is home to Lawrence’s molecular science programs. It is the largest academic building on Lawrence’s 84-acre campus.

The building’s first two floors house the chemistry department, while the third floor is devoted to the biology department. A bridge through the building’s distinctive 30-foot glass atrium connects the third floor to adjacent Youngchild Hall, providing the biology department with a contiguous space on the top floor of two separate buildings. The lower level features two advanced research laboratories in physics, a radioisotope wet lab for use by both the biology and chemistry departments and a world-class electron microscopy suite.

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