Dean receives honor for research on Mendel

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Photo by Mike Terry

At the intersection of genetics, art and history stands Daniel Fairbanks, dean of UVU’s College of Health and Science. He was awarded the Mendel Memorial Medal in Brno, Czech Republic March 8.

Fairbanks received the award for the combination of his historical research and artwork on Gregor Mendel, a botanist and the founder of modern genetics.

Fairbanks was recognized for his research appearing in Genetics, a scholarly peer-reviewed journal October 2016. He had two papers published in the journal back to back that were co-authored by Scott Abbott, a professor of integrated studies, philosophy and humanities at UVU. Their work showed the influence that Charles Darwin had on Mendel, his contemporary.

Referencing Mendel’s personal copy of Darwin’s “Origin of Species, the UVU professors compared the words in passages Mendel marked to the word choice in his own paper “Experiments on Plant Hybrids.” 

“As we go back to the original German it is very clear that Mendel was using words from passages that he marked in the ‘Origin of Species,’” said Fairbanks.

Channeling his interest for science, and its pioneers, Fairbanks uses art to bring life to the stories of scientists he admires. In receiving the medal, he was also recognized for a 20-piece art exhibit of sculpture, painting and drawing titled “In Mendel’s Footsteps: An Exhibit in the Places, People, and Scientific research in the life of Gregor Mendel.” The exhibit debuted during the bicentennial celebration of the opening of the Moravian Museum, home of the Centrum Mendelianum, the officiating body which grants the most renowned award in Mendel’s name.

“I followed my passion,” said Fairbanks, speaking about his achievement. Fairbanks became fascinated with Mendel as an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University in 1979.

“He had probably the most extensive use of numerical data and statistical analysis at the time. He was able to decipher what was going on at the cellular level, even though he did not use a microscope,” said Fairbanks.

Fairbanks has since received numerous teaching awards, published prolific research on topics such as evolutionary genetics, science education the history and philosophy of science and plant genetics.

“He is an inspiration for everybody in this department,” said James Price, chair of UVU’s biology department. “If he can do all of this stuff and still be dean, then we ought to be able to get our work done too.”