Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sesquicentennial Stories: The Promise of UK #107

Thomas Hunt Morgan was born in Lexington Kentucky on September 25, 1866.  He attended the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky (University of Kentucky) during the 1880s. He earned a B.S. degree in 1886 and received a M.S. degree two years later.  Morgan briefly taught natural history at A&M before going east.  

Morgan in 1884 Aid, Zoology and Botany
 Morgan was a nephew of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. As a student at A&M, Morgan continued to live at his birthplace, Hopemont, the home of his famous family.  The house, on the corner of Mill and Second streets, is a Lexington landmark and now known as the Hunt-Morgan House.

Hunt-Morgan House, formerly Hopmont
 After leaving A&M, Morgan attended Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1890.  He became professor of biology at Bryn Mawr College in 1891, in 1914 Morgan was called to fill a new chair of experimental zoology position at Columbia University, and in 1928 he became Director of the William G. Kerckhoff Laboratories of the Biological Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, a position Morgan held until 1945.  

Through his research and career, Morgan found time to work and study in Europe, he wrote or contributed to fourteen books and over three hundred articles.  Morgan achieved international fame as an experimental zoologist before he devoted his full attention to heredity, the field in which he won his greatest recognition.  According to his biographer Wendell H. Stephenson, “The great contribution of Dr. Morgan was his clarification of the laws and mechanics of heredity, and of the mutation of species.  He and his associates were the first definitely to locate the genes.”   

Morgan in his Columbia Lab
 Morgan discovered the basic mechanisms of heredity and was a pioneering geneticist, winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933. Morgan belonged to a large number of academic societies and he received many honorary degrees from universities in Europe, Canada, and the United States.  In 1941 Dr. Morgan retired, only four years before his death.  A bronze plaque in Lexington marks the birthplace of this celebrated scientist.

In 1916, the University of Kentucky awarded him the honorary Doctor of Laws degree and, in 1966, named its new Thomas Hunt Morgan School of Biological Sciences for him.

Thomas Hunt Morgan was named to the Hall of Distinguished Alumni in February, 1965. In 2011, a historic marker was placed on campus near the Thomas Hunt Morgan School of Biological Sciences.

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