Between the Lines: March-April 2009

April 1, 2009

On a recent afternoon, it was standing-room only in a lecture hall. The occasion was what members of the biology department had labeled "Noorfest," a celebration of their colleague Mohamed Noor.

Noor, whose work is featured in this issue, was just back from London. He was there to receive a Darwin-Wallace Medal, awarded by the Linnean Society on an impressively infrequent basis—it's been every fifty years, though the pace will now accelerate—to a handful of individuals for "major advances in evolutionary biology." The latest awards coincided with the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin.

Modern science, Noor told his London audience, has made great strides in mapping out the genetic underpinnings of life. Still, he said, a full understanding of evolution "requires observing organisms carefully in their natural environment," much in the spirit of Darwin.

At the Noorfest, his undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral advisers paid tribute to their former student. Noor, it was noted, published his first paper just three years into graduate school, having stuck with a topic that he was told would lead nowhere. Seven other papers quickly followed; the total is now around eighty.

The three older scientists talked about their former student's scholarly drive (and his driving for fast food). Other characteristics made him a natural selection for acclaim: Noor's undergraduate mentor called him "one of the nicest human beings on the planet."

For Duke Magazine, this issue marks a Clay Felker Fellow evolution. The newly married Jacob Dagger '03, whose range as a writer and depth as a thinker proved to be remarkable, is bound for the Bay Area. His successor, Aaron Kirschenfeld '07, has been a Chronicle columnist, a magazine-journalism standout student, a B.N. Duke Scholar, and the Blue Devil mascot—a background that promises to keep editorial spirits high.