04/19/2005 07:00:00

Campus Weather Station to Be Dedicated to the Late Caltech Nobel Laureate Ed Lewis

PASADENA, Calif.--The famed geneticist Ed Lewis won his Nobel Prize for his breakthroughs in understanding how genes relate to embryonic development. But for four years in World War II, he served as a U.S. Army meteorologist.

On April 26, the late California Institute of Technology professor will be honored for his war service with the dedication of the Ed Lewis Memorial Weather Station on the Caltech campus. The station provides real-time weather information as part of the WeatherNet network of schools with weather stations on their campuses.

The ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the lobby of the physical plant building near the corner of Holliston and San Pasqual avenues. The weather station is located at the physical plant.

Activities begin with welcoming comments by Elliot Meyerowitz, a plant geneticist who is Beadle Professor of Biology and current chair of the Caltech biology division, where Lewis was a faculty member from 1946 until his death in July 2004. Meyerowitz will be followed by Stephanie Blozy, a WeatherBug meteorologist, who will present an overview of the weather station and its role on television, in schools, and on the computer desktop. Meyerowitz will then introduce KNBC-TV weathercaster Fritz Coleman, who will present the formal welcome to the public on behalf of NBC4 WeatherNet. At approximately 4:50 p.m., Meyerowitz will present the "Golden Anemometer" to Pamela Lewis, the widow of Ed Lewis, and their son Keith Lewis (an anemometer is a device for measuring wind speed and liquid flow). Following the presentation ceremony will be the unveiling of the weather station's digital display and plaque by Meyerowitz and the Lewis family.

Lewis spent his life working on the genetics of the fruit fly, with special attention to the fundamental ways in which the genes relate to embryonic development. The work had profound implications for a basic understanding of the genetic regulation of development in humans. In a book published on Lewis a few months before his death, author and longtime collaborator Howard Lipshitz wrote that Lewis's scientific research was "the bridge linking experimental genetics as conducted in the first half of the 20th century, and the powerful molecular genetic approaches that revolutionized the field in its last quarter." Lipshitz also lauded Lewis's much less widely known work on the understanding of radiation and cancer, and closely related issues concerning nuclear-weapons testing policy.

Born May 20, 1918, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Lewis as an adolescent became interested in the genetics of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, which was already being touted as an excellent animal for research by Caltech's Thomas Hunt Morgan. Lewis performed genetics experiments on Drosophila while just a freshman in high school, and after taking a bachelor's degree in 1939 at the University of Minnesota, came to Caltech for a doctorate and remained at the Institute for the rest of his life, save for the four years he spent in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II as a meteorologist.

Lewis published several research papers while still a college student, and soon after the war was a recognized expert in the field of fly genetics. Returning to Caltech in 1946 as an instructor, he was named an assistant professor in 1948, earned tenure the following year, and became a professor of biology in 1956. He was named the Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Biology in 1966 and retained the chair until his retirement from active faculty duties in 1988.

"Ed was the bridge between the pioneers of Drosophila work--Morgan, Bridges, and Sturtevant--and modern developmental biology," says Baltimore, also a Nobel Prize-winning biologist. "Ed saw that even a lowly fruit fly could be a key to understanding the mysterious process of how a fertilized egg turns into a fully developed organism."

The public is invited to the weather-station dedication ceremony. WeatherBug school representatives will also be on hand for the event.


Written by Robert Tindol