July 18, 2007

Summer Panel Series Tells History of Biology Department

Project shares legacy of accomplishments by previous biology students and faculty

During the first part of the 20th century, the “Batman” was a real person whom generations of Lafayette students had seen making his rounds on campus. Except his trusty companion was never a masked Robin, but a small brown and black dachshund, and his cape was actually a Scottish Inverness cape used to make a catchy fashion statement.

His real name was Beverly Waugh Kunkel. When he wasn’t protecting the paths of Lafayette, he was a brilliant and beloved professor of biology, chairing the department from 1915 to 1952. He earned the nickname “The Batman” from his students for his notorious capes. He went through many of them, as well as several cherished little dachshunds, over the years.

This summer, a series of panels that tell these and many other stories comprising the history of the biology department will be on display in Kunkel Hall. Beginning on the first floor with several panels on each landing leading up the stairs, viewers can follow a timeline of highlights from the creation of the department up to 2005. The timeline covers what has been taught, faculty who have come and gone with a description of their research interests, and when different disciplines emerged.

This series of panels is an extension of the welcome panels on display at the entrance to the building that depict what biology is and what the department has to offer. In doing so, they demonstrate biology’s connectedness to all other disciplines.

Robert Kurt, assistant professor of biology, explains that everything from the humanities to computer science is enhanced with knowledge of biology. The history series is meant to share the legacy of accomplishments that previous biology students and faculty members have left behind.

According to Wayne Leibel, professor and head of biology, two of Kunkel’s students went on to great things, earning Nobel Prizes in Medicine. Philip Hench ’16 was awarded the prize for his work on the hormone cortisone, and Haldan Keffer Hartline ’23 for his work on vision.

More recently in 2005, biology graduate Roger Newton ’72, who conducted research under Shyamal Majundar, Kreider Professor of Biology, was presented with the Coeur d’Or Award from the American Heart Association for his significant role in the discovery of the cholesterol-reducing drug Lipitor.

“Historically, the department has done very well,” explains Kurt. “Students and faculty have done great things over the years. A lot of specialization emerged within the department as professors with their own research interests, such as neuroscience and microbiology, came here to teach. But another purpose of these panels, especially with the new life science emphasis on campus [through the new strategic plan], is to come back to our roots and show students how the study of natural life fits into all other disciplines.”

“What better timing for sharing with students and others how the natural sciences, particularly the biology department, evolved over the past 170-plus years, since the first botany course was offered to Lafayette students in 1834 and the first course in anatomy and physiology in 1841. We hope the history panels will capture and share our excitement, ” Leibel adds.

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