A Century of Illustrious Science and Education
The Department of Microbiology and Immunology turns 100
Frederick G. Novy
Descendents of University of Michigan Medical School icon Frederick G. Novy,
M.D., gathered in Ann Arbor in May to help celebrate the centennial anniversary
of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
The department was founded in 1902 as the Department of Bacteriology under
the chairmanship of Novy, a student of Robert Koch, who, with Louis Pasteur,
virtually invented the field of bacteriology. Novy was an organic chemist who
became interested in the field through his work with Victor Vaughan. Chair
of the department for more than three decades, Novy then served as dean of
the Medical School from 1935 to 1937 prior to his retirement. He was widely
renowned as one of the most important scientists of his time and devoted his
life to unraveling the mysteries of medical science and advancing public health.
Novy’s son and grandson earned M.D.s from U-M in 1927 and 1978.
Members of the Novy family in attendance at the symposium and their relationships
to Frederick Novy: Front row: Frederick G. Novy III (M.D. 1978), grandson;
Frances Novy Diack, daughter; Dorothy Novy Wilson, granddaughter; Barbara Webster,
granddaughter. Middle row: Frances Diack Stearns, granddaughter; Elizabeth
N. Proulx, granddaughter; Stella Webster, great granddaughter; Frank Proulx,
great grandson. Back row: Greg Stagnuolo, great grandson; Elizabeth S. Proulx,
great granddaughter; Mary Lambert, granddaughter.
Photo: Gregory Fox
In 1963, the department changed its name to the Department of
Microbiology; in 1979, the current name was adopted in recognition
of the newly established
section in immunology. Modern developments in molecular biology were followed
by rapid departmental expansion under the leadership of Frederick C. Neidhardt,
Ph.D., the F.G. Novy Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Microbiology
and Immunology, who retired in 2000 after also having served as associate dean
for faculty in the Medical School and as the University’s vice president
Photo: Gregory Fox
Today, with Michael Imperiale, Ph.D., as the interim chair following the 2002
retirement of Michael Savageau, Ph.D., laboratories in Medical Science Building
II are alive with inquiry and investigation, as scientists from undergraduate
to emeritus work side-by-side in the many diverse and exciting fields of molecular
and cellular biology. Recent areas of pursuit include gene regulation in prokaryotes
and eukaryotes, molecular biology of animal and bacterial viruses, molecular
bases of microbial pathogenesis, integrated behavior of complex molecular and
cellular networks, and much more.
The Centennial Symposium served both to honor the memory and many achievements
of Frederick Novy and to celebrate a department that has, over the past 100
years, developed into a leading interdisciplinary and internationally renowned
research center. Preparing the event was cause for deep reflection on the accomplishments
of the department, and a renewed awareness of all who made them possible, says
Neidhardt, department chair from 1970-1982.
“I was reminded of the truth that all of us in science stand on the
shoulders of those who came before us,” he says. “The towering
figure of Frederick Novy provided four decades of leadership and example for
the Department, both in research and teaching. He was, in the words of [bacteriologist,
Michigan graduate and popular writer] Paul DeKruif, the apotheosis of the pure
scientist. If not the first microbiology department in a medical school in
this country, ours was among the first, and was founded at a time when the
germ theory of disease was not fully accepted.”
Photo: Gregory Fox
Neidhardt notes that the first Nobel Prize in literature awarded to an American
was bestowed on Sinclair Lewis, largely for his book Arrowsmith — a novel
centered on the contradictory aspects of the philosophy of science and medicine.
The character Max Gottlieb was a depiction of Novy, he adds.
Says Imperiale, “Each day it seems the news brings reminders about how
microbiology and immunology touch our lives: AIDS, SARS and other pathogens
we have not confronted before, antibiotic resistance in those we have, new
vaccines for the general health of our population or to counter the threat
of bioterrorism and biowarfare. We enter our second century well-poised to
meet new challenges, with a commitment to the highest levels of scholarship,
education, and service to our community.”