During the 2016 Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture, Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, took the audience on a brief tour of Turkish and European history to contextualize his rise from a soccer player in a tiny village to a Nobel Prize-winning scientist at a world class university.
“The reason I gave my Nobel medal to the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk was because he promoted universal education in my home country of Turkey,” said Sancar, the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine and member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “His direct influence on people like me in the tiny village of Savur cannot be underestimated.”
As Sancar discussed his childhood in rural Turkey, he thanked his mother and several teachers who served as inspirational mentors early in his education. He described his experience as a post-doctoral student at the University of Texas-Dallas, where he met his wife Gwen, and the importance of the mentorship he received from Claud Stanley Rupert, PhD.
A member of the UNC School of Medicine faculty since 1982, Sancar has developed a deep connection to Carolina and Chapel Hill. He and his wife, Gwen Sancar, PhD, professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, through their Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation, have worked to promote closer ties between the United States and Turkey, founding and supporting Carolina Turk Evi, a cultural center and home for Turkish scholars visiting Chapel Hill. Sancar’s Nobel Prize winnings were donated to further the Foundation’s work.
Finally, Sancar described the work on DNA repair mechanisms that earned him the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. As he outlined the great progress and discoveries made in this subject, he praised members of his lab who have contributed to this work, specifically highlighting the contributions of research assistant professor Christopher Selby, PhD, and associate professor Laura Lindsey-Boltz, PhD.
About the Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture:
The lectureship is named in honor of Norma Berryhill who, along with her husband Dr. Reece Berryhill, contributed immeasurably to the development of the School of Medicine.
While honoring an eminent member of the School of Medicine faculty, the Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture serves as an occasion to further the sense of community created and nurtured by Mrs. Berryhill and each year serves as a welcome for new members of the School of Medicine Faculty.