(Excerpted from Princeton news release)
Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises June 5 to seven distinguished individuals for their contributions to humanitarian efforts and athletic achievements, aerospace and public service, science, literature, medicine, history and the arts.
Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman awarded degrees to Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer and humanitarian; Norman Augustine, the former chief executive officer and chairman of the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp.; Elizabeth Blackburn, a pioneering molecular biologist; Robert Fagles, a celebrated literary translator and Princeton's Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus; LaSalle Leffall Jr., a leading cancer surgeon and researcher; Fritz Stern, a renowned historian of modern Germany; and Twyla Tharp, an award-winning choreographer and director.
Honorary degree recipients are elected by Princeton's Board of Trustees. A trustee committee, which includes faculty and students, solicits nominations from the entire University.
Elizabeth Blackburn, Doctor of Science
Elizabeth Blackburn is the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California-San Francisco. Her work is credited with creating a new field in molecular biology - the molecular description of telomeres, the short sections of DNA at the ends of chromosomes in cell nuclei. Telomeres can be compared to the reinforced tips or aglets that keep shoelaces from fraying or unraveling. Blackburn showed that they consist of an unusual and almost universal structure, a long array of simple repeated DNA. Probing further, she found that these unusual structures are generated by a completely unanticipated mechanism - the enzyme telomerase - that uses RNA as a guide to make telomeric DNA. In three decades of research, Blackburn and her students have helped explain how telomeres act in protecting chromosomes from damage, in regulating cell division and cell death, in stabilizing cancer cells, and in such processes as aging and its associated diseases.
Blackburn, a native of Tasmania, began her career at the University of California-Berkeley and has been at University of California-San Francisco for 15 years. Among her many awards are the Gruber Genetics Prize, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor and the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine. She has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and is a fellow of the Royal Society of London, a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences and past president of the American Society for Cell Biology.
In her lab, she focuses on the tips of chromosomes, striving to harness telomeres and their constituent enzymes to slow the aging process and block the growth of cancer cells. In her career, she has bridged departments, created new fields of inquiry, inspired students and personified integrity. In her public life, she has held policymakers and scientists to the highest ethical standards, and she has insisted that scientific policy be based on scientific evidence. "Queen of the telomeres," a daughter of Tasmania, and now adopted by Princeton, she embodies a lifelong commitment to the discovery of knowledge in the service of others.
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