Nobel-winning alumnus feted

by Alex Robinson

The father of the Green Revolution returned to his alma mater yesterday to be honored just a few hundred yards away from the hall bearing his name.

The plant pathology department honored Norman Borlaug for his outstanding work to cap off their three-day centennial celebration.

When Borlaug introduced a more productive wheat grain in the 1940s, he helped end famine in Pakistan and India, sparking the Green Revolution – a shift in agricultural practices that yielded significantly larger harvests.

Over a four-year span Borlaug and fellow scientists doubled the wheat production in Pakistan.

In 1970 Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments.

He is one of four living American Nobel Peace Prize winners, the others being former President Jimmy Carter, holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The 93-year-old scientist is also one of five people in the world to have won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Plant pathology professor Bob Blanchette said seeing Borlaug and other prestigious alumni return to the department is an inspiration. He said he always shows a portrait of Borlaug to his students.

“I always look out and say ‘Who will be next to lead a revolution to help feed the poor?’ ” Blanchette said.

Graduate student Pablo Olivera first met Borlaug three years ago in Argentina. Olivera said he introduced himself as a University student and Borlaug spent almost an hour talking with him.

When Borlaug visited the University to promote his biography in September 2006, Olivera was asked to be his personal driver.

“It was fun,” Olivera said. “I was driving around a Nobel Peace Prize winner.”

Even though Borlaug was one of the most influential scientists of his time, Olivera said he is always willing to give advice to students.

“He pays special attention to graduate students and young scientists,” Olivera said. “He really likes young people.”

The most important thing for students, Borlaug said, is to have a broad range of studies.

“As you walk through the valley of life, you never know which doors of opportunity are going to open,” he said. “Young people have to be receptive.”

Borlaug lived by his own advice. He graduated from the University with a doctorate and a master’s degree in plant pathology and a bachelor’s degree in forestry.

Borlaug was also a varsity wrestler at the University and refereed the first high school state championship wrestling match.

In light of all Borlaug’s accomplishments, Gov. Tim Pawlenty named Wednesday Norman Borlaug Day in the state of Minnesota.

Plant pathology professor Carol Ishimaru said Borlaug’s accomplishments help instill purpose in the department.

“There’s a great sense of community in our department,” Ishimaru said, “and it’s built off these legends.”