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U. of I. microbiologist Carl Woese elected to Royal Society

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor


Carl Woese
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Photo courtesy IGB
Microbiologist Carl Woese of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been elected as a foreign member of the Royal Society,

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Microbiologist Carl Woese of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been elected as a foreign member of the Royal Society, the world’s oldest continuously active scientific academy in the world.

Woese was among six newly chosen foreign members, one honorary member and 44 Fellows named May 19 by the Royal Society, which was founded in 1660. Among the foreign Fellows named with Woese were two Nobel Prize winners. Woese had won the 2003 Crafoord Prize in Biosciences from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobel Prizes each year.

“The Royal Society is an ultimate scientific society,” said Woese, who holds the Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair at Illinois. “It is a great honor to be chosen as a member of this great academy.”

In its announcement, the Royal Society cited Woese for his discovery of a third major division of life, the archaea (pronounced ARE-kee-uh) that ranks equally with bacteria and eukaryotes (protozoa, fungi, plants and animals). “This resulted from his study of sequences of 16S ribosomal nucleic acid, which he has shown to be applicable to all living organisms,” the Society said.

Woese joined the Illinois faculty in 1964 after working at Yale University (1955-60), General Electric Research Laboratory (1960-63) and the Pasteur Institute in Paris (1962).

Woese was born July 15, 1928, in Syracuse, N.Y. He earned his bachelor’s degree in math and physics in 1950 from Amherst College and a doctorate in biophysics in 1953 from Yale University.
Woese received a "genius" research award in 1984 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1988.

In 1992, Woese became the 12th recipient of microbiology’s highest honor, the Leeuwenhoek Medal, given each decade by the Dutch Royal Academy of Science in the name of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope and discoverer of the microbial world. In 1989, Woese was appointed to the Center for Advanced Study, the highest faculty recognition of the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The Royal Society has promoted excellence in science through its Fellowship and Foreign Membership, which has included Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin, Francis Crick, James Watson and Stephen Hawking.