Campus News

Annual Marker Honors Bio Alum, Nobel Winner

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 7, 2011) —The University of Kentucky's largest major will celebrate a world-renowned Nobel Prize winner of its own at the Student Development Council's 17th annual historical marker ceremony next week. 

With the help of the Kentucky Historical Society and President Lee T. Todd Jr., the SDC will dedicate this year's historical marker to UK biology alum Thomas Hunt Morgan in a public outdoor ceremony on campus. 

Born in Lexington in 1866, Thomas Hunt Morgan was a nephew of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. Thomas Hunt Morgan attended State College of Kentucky, which became UK, during the 1880s, graduating as valedictorian in 1886 with a bachelor's degree in science and in 1888 with a master's degree. 


"His interests were broad, ranging from natural history to genetics," said Department of Biology Chair Vincent Cassone. "A state that boasts the ancient and beautiful Appalachian Mountains in the east, the rolling Bluegrass at its center and the majestic Ohio River Valley -- that attracted such great naturalists as John James Audubon, who lived in Henderson, and Meriwether Lewis, who explored Big Bone Lick -- should not be surprised to learn it is the birthplace and home state of one of the great founders of modern biology, Thomas Hunt Morgan."

After earning a doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1890, the pioneering geneticist discovered the basic mechanisms of heredity and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933. 

"His work has permeated all of biology and, as later Nobel laureate, Eric Kandel, famously put it, 'Morgan's findings about genes and their location on chromosomes helped transform biology into an experimental science,'" said Cassone. "Morgan’s impact extended beyond his own work."

In 1966, UK named the new Thomas Hunt Morgan School of Biological Sciences for him. 

"Morgan was mentor for many great biologists, several of whom went on to receive Nobel Prizes in their own right, and many, if not most modern biologists can trace their academic legacies to Morgan himself or to students of Morgan," said Cassone. "For these and many other reasons, it is fitting that we honor our native son as a scientist and as a teacher." 

SDC and the Kentucky Historical Society will recognize Morgan's contribution to biology with a historical marker placed outside the entrance of the school named in his honor. This topic was chosen by the Class of 2010 and funded through the gifts of graduating UK students. 

Each year, the SDC solicits graduating students to make their first gift to their alma mater. Funds raised during this effort are used to purchase a Kentucky historical marker inscribed with that class's graduating year. 

"The historical markers present a great opportunity for graduates to be a part of something that will stay on campus long after they are gone," said SDC President Mattie Parsley. "Since the markers are wholly funded through student gifts and voted on by graduates, it also allows these students to really take ownership of their gifts.  Perhaps most important is that this gift of $20.11 (in honor of their year of graduation) is the first time most of these almost-alums are giving a gift back to their school. It is our hope that this will be the first gift of many, and they will stay invested in the UK culture long after they are gone!"  

The marker will be dedicated in a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 11, outside of the facility. Faculty, staff, students, UK alumni and members of the Lexington community are all invited to attend. 

The SDC has raised more than $100,000 for the marker program since the inception of this project a decade and a half ago. 

The Kentucky Historical Highway Marker Program is administered by the Kentucky Historical Society in cooperation with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The program commemorates historical sites, events and personalities throughout the Commonwealth.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Holaday Ziegler, (859) 257-1754, ext. 252;