Chemistry Chair, Nobel Laureate Honored by GAA

Oliver Smithies and Valerie Ashby '88.

Genetics scientist Oliver Smithies and chemistry professor Valerie Ashby ’88. (Photo by Shane Snider)

The chair of the chemistry department and a Nobel Prize-winning genetics researcher at UNC were honored Friday with the GAA’s Faculty Service Award.

The GAA Board of Directors presented the awards to chemistry professor Valerie Ashby ’88 and genetics scientist Oliver Smithies. The award, established in 1990, honors faculty members who have performed outstanding service for the University or the association.

Ashby, of Durham, grew up in Clayton and, in addition to her a bachelor’s degree, also earned a doctorate in chemistry at UNC in 1994. After postdoctoral work overseas and a faculty position at Iowa State University, Ashby returned to UNC in 2003 as a professor in the chemistry department. She quickly became one of the most popular professors on campus and in 2007 was named the Bowman & Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor for excellence in undergraduate teaching and research. She was named department chair in 2012. Her research focuses on synthesis of biomaterials used for such functions as drug delivery and gene therapy.

Ashby also is director of the UNC National Science Foundation program aimed at promoting underrepresented minorities into doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering and math, in which she participated as a student. In 2008, she received the Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award from the GAA-sponsored Black Alumni Reunion’s Light on the Hill Society and was that year’s December Commencement speaker. She serves as the UNC faculty marshal and served on the GAA board as faculty representative for 2010-11. Ashby was profiled in the Carolina Alumni Review in May/June 2008,  “Valerie Ashby’s Flock.”

Smithies, of Chapel Hill, is the Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of pathology and laboratory medicine. A native of England, Smithies joined the faculty in 1988 after earning a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Oxford and spending more than two decades as a researcher at the University of Wisconsin.

Smithies was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2007 for his work in genetics. The award recognized his contribution to introducing gene modifications to mice using embryonic stem cells, giving the mice human-like characteristics to more accurately predict how treatments might work in humans. His was the first Nobel awarded to a UNC faculty member, and his presence has been credited with attracting other prominent genetics and genomics researchers to the University. Smithies has received numerous other honors for his discoveries, including the North Carolina Award for Science in 1993, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2001 and the O. Max Gardner Award and the Wolf Prize for Medicine in 2002. Smithies was profiled in the November/December 2007 Carolina Alumni Review, “The First Nobel.”

A complete list of award winners can be found by clicking here.

Recent award recipients and related coverage is available online:

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