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By Todd Schwartz


The evolution of the Reed biology department is driven by a new facility, an old tradition, and a thriving student–faculty commitment


Not so long ago physics was the It Science, getting all the press and going to the best parties. Quantum mechanics, dark matter, dark energy. . . . all the rage. But now the face of physics has been joined on magazine covers by the new top of the pops: biology, with a bullet, is white hot. End of Article Can you say cloning? Can you say stem cell research? Can you say genetic engineering? Biology, particularly molecular biology and developmental biology, is where the headlines are made. End of Article Maybe some of that bursting (and often controversial) new energy is helping power the feeling of excitement and anticipation in Reed’s biology department. Maybe it’s the extensive building renovation and addition that has created a beautiful new facility with both the space and the equipment the department had been missing. Maybe it’s simply the tradition of small-group teaching, virtually unlimited student-to-faculty access, and real-live student research that make the sciences a special thing at Reed. Whatever the reason, biology at Reed is in full flower.

Read more about professors and students

Reed's Biology department Read more about the department and its professors.

Spider woman Read about student Crystal Chaw and her eight-legged friends.

Treetop secret Read more about associate professor David Dalton and the Temple of Oxygen Toxicity

Reed College biology started from something like a single cell. A lone faculty member, one Harry Beal Torrey, constituted the entire department from 1912 to 1920. Reed’s first graduating class, in 1915, produced four senior theses in biology. “Students are invited to avail themselves of every facility the department affords—lectures, laboratories, gardens, collections, field trips, library — and develop their resourcefulness and powers of imagination by free contact with concrete facts,” read the inaugural Reed catalog.

Following Torrey’s departure in 1921, L.E. Griffin took over as professor of biology, and a second faculty member was added. Two was company for the next 25 years, until the arrival in 1946 of the soon-to-be-legendary Lewis Kleinholz. Facilities for biology consisted of three rooms in the basement and two rooms on the first floor of Eliot Hall.

Two landmark events took place in 1955: the first faculty research laboratory for biology was created, and Kleinholz took over as department chairman. Both would eventually lead to the establishment of a commitment to faculty research that continues unabated.

By 1960 the department had moved into a new building, the faculty had expanded to seven, and Kleinholz had put in place a new system that allowed teachers to devote 25 percent of their time (in theory, at least) to research. The following year, Kleinholz became a full-time research professor, funded by the National Institutes of Health. [Ed. Note: Lewis Kleinholz passed away this past July. Read his obituary.

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