The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s libraries are the core of the campus, fostering an atmosphere charged with curiosity and discovery as students study, read and collaborate.
So when it came to finding a home for an exhibit honoring the University’s two Nobel laureates, Davis Library was the obvious choice.
“We’re doing it here in the most fitting of places — in the Davis Library,’’ said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Both of our Nobel laureates wanted this to be something that our students could really celebrate and be a part of. The library is the heart of every institution.”
On April 13, Carolina unveiled the new Nobel Prize medal exhibit honoring the Aziz Sancar and Oliver Smithies, the University’s two laureates. The year-long display titled “Be Inspired: Carolina’s Nobel Laureates,” includes the two scientists’ Nobel Prize medals alongside descriptions of their work.
Sancar earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2015 for his efforts mapping the cellular mechanisms that underlie DNA repair, which occur every day due to outside forces, such as ultraviolet radiation and other environmental factors. In particular, Sancar mapped nucleotide excision repair, which is vital to prevent UV damage to DNA.
“It has taken UNC and the whole community of Chapel Hill to get me to where I am,” Sancar said. “I am forever grateful for that.”
Smithies was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007 for his co-discovery of a technique that introduced specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells. This led to the creation of “designer mice,” which replicated human disease, and “knock out mice,” where specific genes were removed to study what happened when they were missing.
The medals now on display on the first floor of Davis Library, Folt said, are not just symbols that represent Sancar’s and Smithies’ decades of work, but also the values of creativity and diversity that drive Carolina.
“The medals show the wealth of innovation that takes place here, they symbolize incredible hard work for such a long time in pursuit of something that is really important,” she said.
Addressing the laureates, she added, “Our campus feels so proud to be part of your success and have played even a small role in their accomplishments.”
In their brief remarks during the unveiling, the acclaimed scientists offered advice to students in the crowd. Sancar urged the audience to always work hard — a concept he values more than any other.
Smithies suggested that students find their passion — and pursue it.
“Don’t do something that is work for the rest of your lives,” Smithies said. “Find something that you enjoy so much that you can say ‘I never did a day’s work.’ You’re doing something you’re enjoying. … Find something that makes you still come and play in the morning.”
Shortly after the event, Davis Library returned to normal as students studied for exams. University Librarian Sarah Michalak said she hopes the addition of the Nobel Prize display will provide those students new inspiration.
“Perhaps UNC’s next Nobelist is among us even now,” Michalak said.“I have wondered whether just studying here day-by-day in sight of these powerful symbols could place at least one student on the long path to Stockholm.”
Video by Carly Swain, story Brandon Bieltz, photos by Jon Gardiner, Office of Communications and Public Affairs