Friday, June 13, 2008
Obituary: Carnegie Mellon Professor, Head of Biological Sciences Elizabeth Jones Will Be Remembered For Her Mentorship, Research
PITTSBURGH—Elizabeth W. Jones, an internationally renowned geneticist and admired educator at Carnegie Mellon University, died June 11 following complications from surgery.
"Beth was a leader in research, education and as a department head. She loved her work, her students and Carnegie Mellon," said Fred Gilman, dean of the university's Mellon College of Science (MCS). "Her legacy will live on through her students and colleagues, for whom she worked tirelessly."
Jones began her scientific career as a chemistry major at the University of Washington. After working in geneticist Herschel Roman's lab during her sophomore year, Jones realized her true calling to the field of biology. In 1960, she received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Washington, and in 1964, under Roman's guidance, she was awarded the first genetics doctorate ever granted by the University of Washington. Jones then completed her post-doctoral training with Boris Magasanik at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her first faculty appointment was at Case Western Reserve University, where she taught for five years.
Jones joined the Carnegie Mellon community in 1974 as an associate professor of Biological Sciences in MCS. In 1982, she was promoted to professor, and in 2000, she was named head of the Department of Biological Sciences and the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences. In 2002, she was named a University Professor, Carnegie Mellon's highest faculty honor.
"Beth Jones was truly among the best, setting the standard for what a professor should strive to become," said Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon. "She was one of the most beloved members of the university family. To say she will be missed is a great understatement."
Until her death, Jones continued the research she began more than 40 years ago, using genetic approaches to understand how proteins in yeast cells reach their proper destinations. Jones chose to study yeast because fundamental genes are "obsessively conserved" between yeast and mammals during evolution; thus, advances in yeast may be directly translatable to humans.
In addition to her scientific prowess and achievements, Jones had a talent for inspiring students. She valued pure discovery and infused the lab environment with excitement.
"Beth was my single most influential mentor," said Aaron P. Mitchell, a former student of Jones' who will be leaving the faculty at Columbia University to join Carnegie Mellon as a professor this fall. "She took real pleasure in seeing young people develop in every way - intellect, knowledge, confidence and especially curiosity! Students can be uncertain of the value of their ideas and results, but Beth's infectious enthusiasm left no doubt when a job was well done."
During her tenure at MCS, Jones was recognized for both her dedication to her students and her support of undergraduate research. She received the university's Robert Doherty Prize for Excellence in Education and the Julius Ashkin Teaching Award from MCS. In 2007, she received the inaugural Excellence in Education Award from the Genetics Society of America, and she recently received the society's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering work in yeast genetics.
Jones co-authored two textbooks about genetics and published more than 70 papers in the scientific literature. For nearly 12 years, she served as editor-in-chief of Genetics, the leading journal in the field, and since 1990, she was co-associate editor of the Annual Review of Genetics. Jones also served a lengthy tenure as an associate editor with the journals Yeast and Molecular Biology of the Cell.
During the course of her career, Jones earned many honors, including a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Career Development Award and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. The NIH has continuously funded her research for more than 30 years. She was appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in 2002.
Jones was a member and elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology, an elected fellow of the American Academy of Sciences, a member and former president of the Genetics Society of America, and a member of the American Societies for Cell Biology, Human Genetics and Microbiology.
Contributions may be made in Jones' memory to Carnegie Mellon University, P.O. Box 371525, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15251-7525. Please write “Elizabeth W. Jones Memorial Fund” in the check’s memo.