Dr. Oliver Smithies, UNC’s first full-time faculty member to win a Nobel Prize, passed away Tuesday at UNC Hospitals at age 91, the university announced.
Smithies won the Nobel Prize in in physiology or medicine in 2007.
“Oliver Smithies was such a loving, wonderful force for all things good in this world,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt in a release announcing Smithies’ passing. “Spending time with Oliver and Nobuyo has been one of the highlights of my tenure at Carolina. Every time I saw the two of them together, I was uplifted and inspired by their relationship, joyful attitude to life and generosity of spirit.”
“Our dear friend and colleague, Dr. Smithies, was a giant and a wonderful human being. The UNC School of Medicine is much the better for his time with us,” said Dr. William L. Roper, dean and Bondurant Professor, School of Medicine, and chief executive officer of UNC Health Care.
“Oliver was a truly remarkable person with a joy for life and science. His brilliance was paired with infectious enthusiasm that inspired everyone around him,” said Dr. J. Charles Jennette, Kenneth M. Brinkhous Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine.
“It was an honor to have Dr. Smithies as my colleague and to have collaborated with him at UNC,” said UNC’s second Nobel Laureate Dr. Aziz Sancar, Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics. “He was a true scholar and a gentleman, an inspiration to all of us here and to scientists around the world. I feel especially lucky to have gotten to spend so much time with him over the past year due to our connection as UNC Nobel Prize recipients. I will miss him greatly.”
Dr. Norman E. Sharpless, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said Smithies played a critical role in the University’s evolution into a world-leading scientific juggernaut. “While many people contributed to that progress, Oliver was one of the most important, by providing the example of research excellence,” Dr. Norman E. Sharpless, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center said. “His discoveries in gel electrophoresis and gene targeting inspired a generation of biologists, including me.”
Smithies was still active on the UNC campus, continuing research in his lab. Smithies and Sancar appeared together at a ceremony last year to donate both of their medals to the university for a year-long exhibit.