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Genetics Pioneer Donates Millions to Student Fellowships

The philanthropy of Genome Sciences and Biology Professor Benjamin D. Hall and his wife, Margaret A. Hall, ’84, is creating future support for graduate students in biology and genome sciences at the UW. In December, the Halls committed $1.5 million to establish two endowed fellowships. Their gift to the College of Arts and Sciences set up the Benjamin and Margaret Hall Endowed Fellowship in Biology, and their deferred gift to UW Medicine eventually will establish the Benjamin and Margaret Hall Endowed Fellowship in Genome Sciences.

The Halls’ recent gifts to the departments of biology and genome sciences augment their history of contributing to the UW. Ben, a renowned geneticist, has been a UW faculty member since 1963. His pioneering work in yeast genetics led to two important discoveries, made jointly with co-inventor Gustav Ammerer, a postdoctoral researcher from Austria. (See “Rising to the Occasion,” March 1994). These discoveries were a general method for producing in yeast genetically engineered proteins, such as human insulin, and a specific invention for making the vaccine against human hepatitis B virus, a blood-borne infectious agent causing liver disease.

United States patents for these inventions were issued in 1996 and 1988. The licensing income from them has supported many UW graduate students and aided faculty research through the Royalty Research Fund. In 2004, Professor Hall received the first UW Inventor of the Year Award.

The Hall fellowships will enhance the UW’s ability to recruit the best students from around the globe. “Science is increasingly international,” Professor Hall says. “It’s very important for the U.S. to stay in touch with developments in China, Japan and Western Europe.” Bringing together the best scientific minds, he says, creates cross-fertilization, “and both the biology and the genome sciences departments have international reputations.”

The support from Ben and Margaret Hall, combined with matching funds from the UW Matching Initiative and other sources, contribute to the growth of scientific inquiry at the UW and foster the UW’s reputation as an international leader in science.