Nav: Home

Highest faculty honor awarded to one of 'most meritorious scientists alive today'

May 03, 2016

George E. Fox has spent much of his life investigating the mysteries of biology. His research has been described as "Nobel worthy," and his contributions to the University of Houston during nearly four decades as extraordinary.

It is no wonder then that UH has bestowed Fox, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Biology and Biochemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with its highest faculty honor -- the Esther Farfel Award. The award, which carries a $10,000 cash prize, recognizes excellence in teaching, research and service.

"I am pleased to have been chosen as this year's recipient of the Farfel Award," Fox said, adding that his passion for science was ignited during his youth.

"As a child, I was always interested in science, which was especially consistent with the exciting things going on in the space program," Fox said. "I had a Gilbert chemistry set quite unlike what is sold these days. There was even radioactive material included."

At that point, Fox was hooked...for life.

"I attended Syracuse Central Technical High School with a major in technical chemistry," Fox said. "Over a three-year period, we took classes in general chemistry, quantitative analysis and organic chemistry. In our first class, the instructor taught us about chemical reactivity. He put a piece of sodium in water, which quickly erupted into flames. The next time, he added potassium, but there weren't as many flames, then he added calcium, which was very disappointing."

Fox continued to follow his interest in science at Syracuse University, where he received a bachelor's degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering. It was at Syracuse that Fox became fascinated with life sciences, which led him to pursue a postdoctoral position in theoretical biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, he was advised by and worked with Carl R. Woese, famed microbiologist and biophysicist. Their collaboration resulted in the discovery of the Archaea.

"Stating it briefly, a large fraction of all living things are members of the domain of life known as the Archaea that was discovered by Dr. Fox," his nominator explained. "If the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology was a prize for systematic biology, George Fox would be a Nobel Laureate. I know of no other UH faculty member whose scientific contributions are worthy of recognition at this level."

And another supporter, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor in Nova Scotia, said "the discovery of the Archaea and the revolutions in microbial systematics and evolutionary biology that followed it are, unquestionably, the most significant developments in those fields in the last century."

Even more intrigued with life sciences after the discovery, Fox packed up his belongings and moved from Illinois to the Lone Star state to join UH as an assistant professor in 1977.

"UH was particularly attractive because Dr. Juan Oró, an early Farfel Award recipient, was here," Fox said. "He had discovered the prebiotic synthesis of adenine and was a member of the Mars Viking exploration team in 1976. Moreover, he was very interested in the work I had been doing at the University of Illinois."

Since those early years, Fox's reputation as a distinguished scientist has only grown, and rightly so considering his achievements in scholarly publications and external funding. During the course of his lengthy career at UH, Fox has raised nearly $9 million in grants to support his research, which currently focuses on understanding the early evolution of life through investigations of the structure, function and evolution of ribosomes.

Fox's record of publication and list of scholarly presentations are equally as impressive. He has published more than 170 peer-reviewed scientific papers in such respected journals as Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. His research has received close to 17,000 citations, making him one of the most cited scholars in his field, a supporter observed.

Fox's role at UH, though, is not limited to research. He has taught countless students and has mentored 30 doctoral students and 18 master's students. More than 30 undergraduates have participated in projects with his research group. Fox has also served in various administrative positions including Director of the Institute for Molecular Biology, Vice Chair of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry and Chair of its predecessor, the Department of Biochemical and Biophysical Science.

"Professor Fox represents the very best of us at UH," his nominator commented, listing Fox's many honors.

His accolades include election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, and the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life.

Although Fox is legendary among his peers, he remains "unpretentious yet effective," observed another supporter, adding, "One easily overlooks his accomplishments, but he clearly is among the most meritorious scientists alive today."
-end-
About the University of Houston

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation's fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 42,700 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country.

About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with 193 ranked faculty and nearly 6,000 students, offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics conduct internationally recognized research in collaboration with industry, Texas Medical Center institutions, NASA and others worldwide.

Editor's note: Story written by Francine Parker, Office of University Communication.

University of Houston

Related Evolution Articles:

Prebiotic evolution: Hairpins help each other out
The evolution of cells and organisms is thought to have been preceded by a phase in which informational molecules like DNA could be replicated selectively.
How to be a winner in the game of evolution
A new study by University of Arizona biologists helps explain why different groups of animals differ dramatically in their number of species, and how this is related to differences in their body forms and ways of life.
The galloping evolution in seahorses
A genome project, comprising six evolutionary biologists from Professor Axel Meyer's research team from Konstanz and researchers from China and Singapore, sequenced and analyzed the genome of the tiger tail seahorse.
Fast evolution affects everyone, everywhere
Rapid evolution of other species happens all around us all the time -- and many of the most extreme examples are associated with human influences.
Landscape evolution and hazards
Landscapes are formed by a combination of uplift and erosion.
New insight into enzyme evolution
How enzymes -- the biological proteins that act as catalysts and help complex reactions occur -- are 'tuned' to work at a particular temperature is described in new research from groups in New Zealand and the UK, including the University of Bristol.
The evolution of Dark-fly
On Nov. 11, 1954, Syuiti Mori turned out the lights on a small group of fruit flies.
A look into the evolution of the eye
A team of researchers, among them a zoologist from the University of Cologne, has succeeded in reconstructing a 160 million year old compound eye of a fossil crustacean found in southeastern France visible.
Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?
Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought, according to a University of Southampton professor.
The evolution of antievolution policies
Organized opposition to the teaching of evolution in public schoolsin the United States began in the 1920s, leading to the famous Scopes Monkey trial.

Related Evolution Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...