Nobel laureate speaks at U

Devin Henry

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roderick MacKinnon visited campus and spoke with students Monday as part of the Honeywell-Nobel Initiative.

The program, a partnership between technology manufacturer Honeywell and the Nobel Foundation, aims to connect university students worldwide with winners of the Nobel Prize in areas of science.

Chemistry and physics junior Christina Cowman said she was impressed by MacKinnon, the 2003 laureate in chemistry.

“I think I would say that he seemed like a normal person even though he won the Nobel Prize,” Cowman said. “He really wanted to talk to students and to tell us about his experience.”

Jill Stueck, manager of the Honeywell-Nobel Initiative, said the University is one of only five schools in the United States to be selected for the program. Other international schools selected include two each in the Czech Republic, Japan and India.

The schools were selected by a technology leadership council.

Each school involved gets a different Nobel laureate, she said, and MacKinnon’s visit to the University is the last in the United States this year.

Stueck said she expects a new speaker to come to the University in the next two or three years.

MacKinnon talked with graduate students early Monday before taking questions from an undergraduate chemistry class. He also gave a lecture at McNamara Alumni Center on the topic of electricity in biology.

MacKinnon said he is pleased to be involved with the Honeywell-Nobel Initiative.

“Our lives today have been transformed by science,” he said. “If we want to continue, there are new problems facing us that have to be solved, and that can only be done by scientists.”

Julie Shortridge, senior director of communication for the Minnesota Alumni Association, said it’s important for the University to host Nobel Prize winners as speakers.

“As a major university, potentially one of the top three universities in the world, those are the people we want talking to our students and faculty and staff,” she said. “They’re inspirational, just for what they have achieved.”

Shortridge said seven Minnesota alumni have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields, including Norman Borlaug who visited campus in September.

To honor the alumni and the 11 faculty members who have also won the award, an area of the Scholar’s Walk is dedicated to the Nobel laureates. Many other winners can be found on the Wall of Discovery on the same path, Shortridge said.

“The University of Minnesota changes the world one graduate at a time,” Shortridge said. “This adage becomes most visible when someone does such extraordinary work in their field that they win a Nobel Prize.”

MacKinnon said the whole world is dependent on scientific development, and this needs to continue in the future.

“Humanity has big problems facing it,” he said. “I think science is the only way to solve these problems.”