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.
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.
“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.
APPLETON, WIS. – Thomas Steitz, a 1962 graduate of Lawrence University, has been named one of three recipients of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today.
Steitz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Yale University, is the first Lawrence graduate ever to win a Nobel Prize.
Steitz, along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science, were recognized for their research on the structure and function of the ribosome.
In announcing this year’s Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy cited the three scientists for their work that shows what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level. All three have employed x-ray crystallography, a method that maps the position for each of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome.
Steitz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lawrence, uses the methods of x-ray crystallography and molecular biology to establish the structures and mechanisms of the proteins and nucleic acids involved in gene expression, replication, and recombination. In x-ray crystallography, protein crystals are bombarded with intense x-ray beams. As the x-rays pass through and bounce off of atoms in the crystal, they leave a diffraction pattern, which can then be analyzed to determine the three-dimensional shape of the protein.
According to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Web site, an understanding of the ribosome’s innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life. Many of today’s antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes. Without functional ribosomes, bacteria cannot survive. A better understanding of ribosomes is crucial for the development of new antibiotics.
While research on ribosome function has been conducted for 50 years, generating massive amounts of information, no group has succeeded in creating an accurate three-dimensional map until now.
“Our previous maps of the 50S subunit at nine- and five-Ångström resolution gave us some hints at the structure, but not until we achieved the 2.5-Ångström resolution could we resolve the atomic structure of all 100,000 atoms that are well ordered in the crystal,” said Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Professor of Chemistry at Yale University. “This structure is about four times larger than any other such structure that has ever been determined, and the 3,000 nucleotides of RNA increased the amount of known RNA structure by about 4 to 5 fold.”
According to Steitz, the process of achieving such high resolution meant painstakingly improving the process of growing larger, more complete ribosome crystals, and solving structures of those crystals at progressively higher resolution. Each lower-resolution map provided information that could help the scientists understand the ultimate high-resolution map, he said. The high-resolution structure offered a pathway to far deeper understanding of the protein-assembling machinery.
“We’re certainly not done with the scientific challenges presented by the ribosome,” said Steitz. “Although I must say I do feel as if we’re standing on Mount Everest at the moment and I’m now looking to find K2.”
- excerpted from Howard Hughes Medical Institute Web site
Robert Rosenberg, professor emeritus of chemistry at Lawrence was Steitz’ academic advisor. He remembered him as a student with an unusually high-degree of curiosity.
“He was very inquiring, more so than most students,” said Rosenberg, who said he was “thrilled” at Steitz’ latest recognition.
“I’ve been hoping for this for years,” said Rosenberg, who has remained close to Steitz over the past four decades. “For a while I thought it wouldn’t happen, because they had awarded Nobel Prizes to several x-ray crystallographers over the years and I thought they may have exhausted the list.
The Nobel Prize is the latest in a long list of awards Steitz has received during his distinguished career. Among his many other honors are the Pfizer Prize from the American Chemical Society, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for distinguished work in basic medical sciences, the 2001 Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the 2006 Keio Medical Science Prize and the prestigious 2007 Gairdner International Award.
Lawrence awarded Steitz an honorary doctorate of science degree in 1981 and recognized him with its Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002. Steitz served as the keynote speaker at dedication ceremonies in 2000 of Lawrence’s Science Hall.
After earning his bachelor’s degree at Lawrence, Steitz earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry at Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology.