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Science was Huskers’
path to Nobel Prize
The awards for Physiology or Medicine and Chemistry
have been awarded to UNL alums three times in 42 years
Special for the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is
alma mater to three Nobel Prize winners:
George Beadle, Donald Cram and Alan
Heeger.
George Beadle, a native of Wahoo,
earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture
from Nebraska in 1926 and a master’s degree in 1927. He worked on wheat breeding with Professor F. D. Keim, a protégé of
the great botanist Charles Bessey. Beadle
earned his doctorate from Cornell University in 1931, served as a faculty member
at several universities, and later became
chancellor and then president of the University of Chicago, where he served until
his retirement.
George Beadle shared the 1958 Nobel
Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Edward
Tatum for the discovery that genes determine the structure of enzymes, and thereby
affect heredity. Dubbed the “one gene-one
enzyme” concept, Beadle and Tatum’s
work, undertaken at Stanford University,
helped found the field of biochemical genetics. Nebraska awarded Beadle an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1949.
Donald Cram earned a master’s degree
in organic chemistry from Nebraska in
1942, and a doctorate in the same field
from Harvard in 1947; he joined the UCLA
faculty and worked there his entire career.
Cram’s work allowed for development in
the laboratory of functional enzymes that
behave like natural enzymes. He discovered what has become known as “Cram’s
rule of asymmetric induction,” which in part
explains how molecules form.
Cram shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in
Chemistry with four other scientists for
successfully building molecules able to
attract and bind, or host, other molecules.
This “host-guest” work made a significant
impact on the field of organic chemistry.
Nebraska awarded him an honorary degree
in 1989.
In his official Nobel biography, Alan
Heeger relates that he entered Nebraska
to pursue engineering, not knowing that
science could be a career path. After one
semester he decided to major in physics
and mathematics, studying with Professor
Theodore “Ted” Jorgensen, who introduced
him to quantum physics and modern
science.
Heeger earned his bachelor’s degree in
physics and mathematics from Nebraska

COURTESY OF UNL

Nebraska’s Beadle Center, home to
programs in biotechnology, biosciences, and
plant sciences, is named in honor of George
Beadle, above.

NEXT WEEK The Husker who beat scarlet fever

in 1957 and his doctorate in physics from
the University of California, Berkeley in
1961. He shared the 2000 Nobel Prize
in Chemistry for his work in discovering
and developing certain plastics that can
conduct electricity. Nebraska awarded him
an honorary Doctor of Science degree in
1999.
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