Thursday, April 24, 2014

Remembering Carl Woese: A Memorial Issue of RNA Biology

I have written before here about the centrality of the late Carl Woese to microbiology in particular...and I would argue to the whole of biology as a field.  His loss in late 2012 made me deeply thoughtful as well as sad.  True, the world has become a much smaller place without Carl Woese, but what a career!  What range and what a mind! I only met him twice, but I wished that I could have gotten to just listen to him more.  

I called what I learned from his articles and essays "The Wisdom of Brother Carl" in discussions with students.  We are all related, after all!

As readers of this blog are aware, I teach all of my students (freshman and senior courses) about Carl Woese and his role in biology.  Many freshmen come to my classes not really knowing much about the archaea (or thinking that they are solely "extremophiles," if I am lucky).  That gives me a useful wedge to introduce Woese, and his diverse contributions to science, and his approach to research and the profession of science.  

Obviously, my long-suffering microbiology students know---and emphatically so---how I feel about the contributions of Carol Woese.  

I show them images of the scientist painted on a Petri dish using bioluminescent bacteria (artwork by my wife, Dr. Jennifer J. Quinn).

Or I rave about my "wool sculpture" of the man with his Big Tree, the game-changer that altered how most of us look at the interrelatedness of life (the stone plaque reads, via Pliny the Elder, that nature is to be found in Her entirety nowhere more than in Her smallest creatures).  The artwork is by Amy Wright, and her Etsy shop is here.

And more recently, Woese is part of my "Microbial Heroes™" theme, as a "shrinky dink" in my office window (artwork again by my wife Dr. Jennifer J. Quinn).

The students have replied in costume from time to time, as you can see from a recent Hallowe'en lecture day.

Student respect for Carl Woese in my classes can appear in unusual guises.  Such as in video format, in a music parody (the "Blurred Lines" refers not to Robin Thicke's interpretation, but to phylogenetic interrelatedness).

So, yes, Carl Woese is and will always be an integral part of my curriculum.  The great Norm Pace asked me to write an essay about the role Woese has in my undergraduate classroom, and I was honored to have it included in a memorial issue of RNA Biology.

My essay, and the whole issue, is Open Access. and available here. Please take this opportunity to read many well-written perspectives by some awfully famous authors.  Reading it, I learned a great deal about Carl Woese the man, as well as the impact of his science on many lives from this issue.

Rilke wrote that Death is large, and leaves quite a hole behind. This is particularly true of Carl Woese.

Many, many thanks to Norm Pace for giving me the opportunity to express how I feel about Carl Woese to a larger audience than I could have reached otherwise.

Rest in Peace, Brother Carl.  You will not be forgotten.

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