Sometimes I’m astounded by the way generations work on campuses. There have been a lot of faculty members at Rice who led long lives and remained active scholars to the end. And Rice really isn’t a very old institution. This has created some pretty surprising overlaps. I didn’t get here until 1991, for example, but I’ve still known plenty of people who knew Edgar Odell Lovett.
Not long ago I was looking at some files that held material about Rice’s early relationship with NASA and I was startled to see a story about biologist Edgar Altenburg, a man who I had mentally placed in the very earliest days of the Institute:
Altenburg was a Columbia grad (1910, 1912, 1916), who worked on the genetics of the evening primrose using specimens obtained from the famous Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries. (de Vries spoke, by the way, at the Formal Opening of the Rice Institute in 1912.) While at Columbia Altenburg also worked in Thomas Hunt Morgan’s famous “Fly Room,” the cradle of drosophila work in genetics, alongside his lifelong friend Hermann Muller. After Muller took a job at the new Rice Institute, he recruited Altenburg to come and take the slot about to be vacated by Julian Huxley. Here he is (at left) about to embark on a specimen collecting excursion to the west end of campus in 1916:
And here are a couple of images that were taken at the time of the 1966 NASA biosatellite experiment:
The first biosatellite was not recovered and the second, which also carried his fruit fly experiment, launched just days after his death.