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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

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Just west of the IGB Building, across from the iconic Morrow Plots, is a stretch of sidewalk that looks different than any other on campus. Instead of the typical cracked, beige cement, this walkway is paved with beautiful pink, white, red, and grey stones, which form a double helix. The elegant twist of a DNA molecule represents many things. It is a symbol of life, of singularity, and also of diversity. It is the bedrock of genomic research, and has thus been exquisitely incorporated into the landscape of the IGB through the Walk of Life.

However, the Walk of Life is not merely a pretty design laid into the ground. The Walk of Life is a reminder of the multitude of people who have impacted the IGB, and a celebration of each person’s unique contributions to this Institute, to the University, and to the world. From a historical perspective, The Walk of Life commemorates the discoveries that inspire our ground-breaking genomic research. Subsequently, a paver in the Walk of Life provides an exclusive opportunity to become a tangible part of the IGB’s past, present, and future.  

Past contributors to the Walk of Life have used their pavers as a way to address future generations in a variety of ways. Some have dedicated theirs to a specific objective or field of interest. Dr. Howard Grundy, MD grew up in DeKalb, Illinois and later attended the University of Illinois. Surrounded by agriculture and the men and women who devoted their lives to it, Dr. Grundy developed a deep appreciation for the skills and insights of the American farmer.

Dr Howard Grundy
Dr. Howard Grundy, shown next to his paver, chose to contribute to reflect his commitment to agricultural science at the IGB.

Recognizing both the importance of farmers’ work and the sophistication of their knowledge and abilities, Dr. Grundy dedicated his paver to American agriculture and science, with the hope of attaining energy independence through research and development of sustainable biofuels, such as ethanol, which rely on and encompass the artistry and expertise of the men and women whose lives and work are bound to the land.

“I think the IGB is very impressive,” said Dr. Grundy. “I think research is done in an ideal way, with people working with one another in a substantial way, using a collaborative concept. And when I heard there was research being done on biofuels down here, I became very interested.”

 Others have chosen to honor loved ones through the Walk of Life, weaving their memories into the framework of the IGB and planting them in the heart of the University of Illinois campus. David and Frances Hubbard, both alumni of the University of Illinois, have deep ties to this region of Illinois and to the university. David Hubbard—who grew up on an 80-acre fruit and dairy farm located southeast of the university campus—received a degree in Agriculture from the College of ACES while Frances received a degree in Education. The Hubbards remained in Urbana for the rest of their lives, raising four children, all of whom attended the University of Illinois.

Dr. Carol Hubbard Seery, PhD, David and Frances’ daughter and a professor of speech pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, devoted a paver to her parents, in order to celebrate the significant role that the University of Illinois has played in the lives of the Hubbard family. The Walk of Life’s proximity to the Morrow Plots in the nucleus of the campus was crucial, reflecting Dr. Seery’s—and the entire Hubbard family’s—rich agricultural heritage and appreciation for the university.

“The University of Illinois meant so much to my family that the longer I considered it, the more I knew it was right to memorialize my parents with engraved names there on the UI campus, especially on that lovely walkway near the Morrow Plots,” explained Dr. Seery. “It also is especially important to me that I express appreciation for these roots now that none of our family remains there in Urbana.”

Still other patrons have used their pavers to celebrate the significant impact that the IGB or the University has had on their personal lives. Tobias and Annette Erb, both microbiologists, accepted post-doctoral fellowships at the IGB in 2009. “Many people would tell you that the postdoc time is probably the best time of your life – it is a fresh start without any obligations, and we agree!” said Tobias. “We experienced the IGB, and especially the “mining microbial genomes” theme, as a very stimulating place. The idea of bringing together different research groups and scientists in one common lab space was new to us and a unique experience. Our time in Urbana-Champaign has left a mark in our lives, therefore we decided to leave a footprint on the Walk of Life.”

Every paver contributed by these, and other, donors to the Walk of Life was done so for unique reasons. As diverse as motivations are, the effects are similar: the memories of loved ones, of achievements, and of gratitude are honored, and the support of the IGB’s mission to conduct transformative research in agriculture, human health, the environment, and energy use and production is sustained.

The discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA was the staging area for future decades of revolutionary research, including the work done here at the IGB. Decades from now, what achievements will have been made possible thanks to the names found on the Walk of Life’s beautiful stone helix?  

For more information on the IGB Walk of Life Click Here.

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Written By
Gregory Toreev
Date Published
Photos By
Kathryne Metcalf
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