Dr. Aaron Novick                 Inducted 1986 - Class of 1937

Dr. Aaron Novick is the founding director of the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon, one of the world's leading research centers. At Oregon, he also served 10 years as dean of Graduate Studies and Research and a number of years as head of the Department of Biology. Forty years earlier he had been a member of the team of American scientists who were responsible for the development of atomic energy.

To those who knew him in his years (1933-37) at Woodward High School, these accomplishments can hardly come as a surprise. Among a variety of activities at Woodward, Aaron Novick was editor of The Tattler and a varsity football player, and he distinguished himself with high academic standing, all the while holding a job in a grocery store. Upon graduation in 1937, he was awarded a scholarship by the University of Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1940 and a Ph.D. degree in physical organic chemistry in 1943.

Dr. Novick spent the years 1943-47 with the wartime atomic energy program both in Chicago and at Los Alamos, and he was on the scene when the first atomic bomb was exploded in the New Mexico desert. His final position with the atomic energy program was as senior scientist with the Argonne National Laboratories.

One spring evening in 1947, after a meeting of the atomic scientists group at Chicago, Dr. Novick was invited by the eminent Leo Szilard to join him in an "adventure" in biology.

"We started a lab at the U of Chicago Jan. 1, 1948, and began experiments in an area which has come to be called 'molecular biology:" Dr. Novick wrote recently. "Basically, this is an approach to understanding the nature of life through understanding the function of the molecules of life, especially in terms of their structure. Success, or a great breakthrough was achieved with the discovery of the structure of DNA, the stuff genes are made of."

Dr. Novick spent the years 1948-53 at the University of Chicago's Institute of Radiobiology Committee on Biophysics, advancing in rank from research associate to assistant professor; the year 1953-54 at the Institut Pasteur in Parisas a Guggenheim Fellow; the years 1954-58 back at the University of Chicago as an associate professor.

In 1958 he accepted an invitation to organize the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Oregon. This he did, effective Jan. 1 1959. "I was able to recruit outstanding people, and to my great delight the Institute has been one of the major centers of research in the world," he has said.

He has been at Oregon since, except for sabbaticals at the Institut Pasteur in1962-63 and again in 1967-68. At Oregon he was director of the Institute of Molecular Biology in 1959-69, dean of the Graduate School in 1971-80, and head of the Department of Biology in 1980-84. In 1984 he again became director of the Institute of Molecular Biology, a post he currently holds, but he has reduced his teaching time as professor of biology to one-third, teaching one term a year.

Over the years, Dr. Novick has served on many prestigious scientific panels and as an editorial board member of a number of scientific journals, such as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the Journal of Molecular Biology. Now that he has reduced his teaching load, does that mean that he has become less active? Not at all.

An article last summer in The Portland Oregonian reported that Dr. Novick tours the state often, speaking on the threat of nuclear war. It quotes him assaying that much of his incentive to speak out stems from personal experience and a feeling of some responsibility for the devastating power unleashed by nuclear weapons. In this, he takes a cue from Dr. Szilard, the scientist most responsible for launching the atomic energy program and pushing it through to its successful conclusion.

"After the war and until his death in 1964, this incredible man spent most of his energies, other than in biology, on peace, "Dr. Novick says.

©2020 Woodward Alumni Hall of Fame

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