Edgar Altenburg, 1888-1967

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.


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9 Responses to Edgar Altenburg, 1888-1967

  1. effegee says:

    Any information on who the students in the photo are? You know me. I always have to ask on photos involving the biology department during the times that the class of 1919 was on campus.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      I know that the young man on the right is George Wheeler. I’ve never tried to identify the girls but it might be possible. Things are starting to get quiet so when I go in tomorrow I’ll see if one of them is Ruby.

      • effegee says:

        If she’s there, she would be the middle one. I base that on what I can see of the eyes on a laptop screen. The two to either side are definitely not her. Her granddaughter says the one in left background is is too slender.

        She once mentioned catching frogs and other specimens in Harris Gully for Huxley’s lab. That made me look carefully at this picture.

  2. I have to be the first to say it… time flies like the wind, but fruit flies like bananas.

  3. Galloway Hudson ;60 says:

    Don’t you mean “Formal Opening of the Rice Institute in 1912”?

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