On October 8th, 2007, Oliver Smithies received the call from Stockholm at his home in Chapel Hill at 5 a.m. A few minutes later, His Laureateship cheerfully responded to this writer’s groggy hello by telling him, “Well it looks like you guessed right this year….”
Yes, for several years come October, plans had been hatched at UNC for announcing what some of us believed was inevitable, and now the whole world would get to know why.
A few hours later, Smithies was telling a packed press conference, “I now have a peaceful sense of the rounding off of a scientific life.”
Oliver Smithies, Excellence Professor of pathology and laboratory medicine burns brightly as a science star, one who is warmly approachable and never too hot to avoid a discussion, especially if it offers him an opportunity to share his thoughts and insights with students.
So what does the good student-oriented doctor do with his Nobel winnings?
Simple: he divides them equally among all four universities he has been affiliated with throughout his scientific career — Oxford, the University of Toronto, the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — to launch annual symposia featuring distinguished and visionary scientists, all to be selected and invited by grad students and postdocs.
Smithies, 84 years old , has said that a thrilling and seminal moment in his student years at Oxford was attending a series of lectures by Linus Pauling, 1954 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. “It was tremendously inspiring.”
He hopes the symposia speakers will interact with the young scientitsts and go beyond talking more about “the marvelous things they’re doing now”, to about how they persevered in their early careers to make a big discovery or invention.”
Hope to have more news on the first Smithies Symposium soon.