Honorary Degree Citation - John Tyler Bonner

by Adrian Tsang, June 2003

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you pre-eminent biologist and author John Tyler Bonner, whose illustrious career spanning much of the last century has contributed extraordinary insight to the field.

Driven by a lifelong passion for biology, John Tyler Bonner has devoted more than half a century to research uncovering some of the smallest and, correspondingly, some of the more complex secrets of the science of life. His delight in biological organisms began at age 13, not long after his family moved from New York to London. He quickly became an avid bird-watcher, dividing his time between looking for birds in London parks and studying the bird gallery at the Natural History Museum. His father, worried that his son was narrowing his prospects, gave him a copy of the popular book The Science of Life, by H.G. Wells, Julian Huxley and G.P. Wells, a gift that would completely open the youngster's eyes. It is befitting that a lifetime later, John Tyler Bonner's autobiography, The Lives of a Biologist: Adventures in a Century of Extraordinary Science, is hailed as an illuminating LOOK INTO A life in science.

The young Bonner attended Harvard University, earning an undergraduate degree in biology, magna cum laude, in 1941. He completed a master's degree there the following year. He served in the United States Air Corps for several years, then went on to earn a PhD from Harvard, in 1947.

That same year he joined the faculty at Princeton University, promptly embarking on a distinguished academic career of more than half a century, evolving from professor to chair of his department, and now, professor emeritus. His talent was recognized early, in 1955, with the Selman A. Waksman Medal of the Theobald Smith Society for his contributions to microbiology. It was around this time that the young scientist caught the attention of the genius Albert Einstein. EINSTEIN WATCHED A FILM OF JOHN TYLER BONNER, EARLY IN, HIS CAREER AT PRINCETON, AS HE FOCUSED A LENS ON THE METAMORPHOSIS OF A TINY, SEEMINGLY UNIMPRESSIVE CREATURE, THE AMOEBA. BONNER'S prodigious scientific talent would bring him many firsthand encounters with great scientists of the 20' century.

In 1969, Dr. Boimer was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science. He was named a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1972, and of the National Academy of Sciences the following year. He is also a fellow of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. In the intervening years, his imaginative and creative research on cellular slime molds have revealed their fascinating lives, which until Dr. Bonner's research, were largely unexplained. This work has also shown the importance of understanding microorganisms in order to further the understanding of the larger and most complex species, within the grand course of evolution.

John Tyler Bonner's distinguished career has spanned half a dozen scientific generations. He has witnessed many-of the exciting advances in biology of the 20' century, and contributed outstanding insight to the field. He has published extensively on evolution and development and is considered one of the great developmental biologists of modern time.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you John Tyler Bonner, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.