UC Irvine’s School of Biological Sciences renamed in honor of Francisco J. Ayala

Francisco J. Ayala with his wife, Hana, and UC Irvine Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Howard Gillman.

Chancellor surprises renowned geneticist with news on eve of his 80th birthday

UC Irvine has renamed its School of Biological Sciences the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences, recognizing Dr. Ayala’s vast body of scientific work, international acclaim, and decades of contributions to the school and the campus.

Chancellor Michael V. Drake surprised Ayala, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine, at a private dinner last night with news that the renaming would occur today. At the time of the announcement, Ayala’s 80th birthday had just dawned on March 12 in his native Spain.

Events marking the school’s renaming include a luncheon today with Ayala; his wife, Hana; and the Ayala Fellows, a select group of graduate students in biological sciences. Since its inception three years ago, the Francisco J. Ayala Graduate Fellowship has been awarded to 19 doctoral students. After the luncheon, there will be an all-school celebration of Ayala’s 80th birthday, and plans for new school signage will be unveiled.

“It was my honor to put forward the naming of the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences,” Drake said. “Francisco has demonstrated the highest levels of dedication to excellence in research and teaching. He is a true world ambassador for the sciences, and he has done as much as anyone in the world to elucidate the many intersections of science and religion. He and Hana have been extraordinarily generous and committed supporters and champions of our campus since joining the UCI community in 1987. This is a wonderful recognition for them and for us.”

Ayala’s scientific research focuses on population and evolutionary genetics. He examines related areas that include the origin of species, the genetic diversity of populations, the origin of malaria, the population structure of parasitic protozoa and the molecular clock of evolution. He frequently writes and speaks about the interface between religion and science and on ethics, epistemology, education and the philosophy of biology.

Always willing to share his expertise when asked, Ayala recently kicked off the newly created Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series. His March 7 presentation, entitled “Evolution & God: Conflict & Concert,” was enjoyed by an audience of 300 faculty, staff, students and community guests.

In 2011, continuing decades of support for various programs at UC Irvine, Ayala pledged $10 millionto the biological sciences school, the largest gift ever by a UC Irvine faculty member. He also donated to the campus the entire $1.5 million award from his 2010 Templeton Prize.

“Adding the Ayala name to the School of Biological Sciences bestows the gold standard of scientific distinction and a shining model of selfless service on our school,” said Frank LaFerla, the Hana & Francisco J. Ayala Dean of the school. “I know I speak for our students, faculty and staff when I express heartfelt thanks to Francisco for his many years of dedication and generosity.”

That service to the campus includes countless committees, leadership advisory roles, and close work with graduate and undergraduate students. In addition, Ayala is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and several foreign academies and has received numerous prizes as well as 21 honorary doctorates. He has published more than 1,100 articles and is the author or editor of 40 books.

Among Ayala’s most notable honors is the National Medal of Science, awarded at the White House in June 2002 by President George W. Bush. On May 5, 2010, he received the prestigious Templeton Prize for exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension from Prince Philip at a private ceremony in London’s Buckingham Palace.

The naming of the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences was approved in November 2013 by University of California President Janet Napolitano.

About the Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences: The University of California, Irvine Francisco J. Ayala School of Biological Sciences is one of the largest and most productive schools on campus. It has attained national and international distinction through outstanding research and instruction at the graduate and undergraduate levels. In 2013, the school enrolled 3,425 undergraduate majors and 270 graduate students. Our combined student population constitutes 19.4 percent of students on campus. In 2012, biological sciences awarded the second-highest total number of degrees of any school at UC Irvine: 952 bachelor’s degrees, 27 master’s and 35 Ph.Ds. The school comprises four departments focused on integrated areas of research and education: developmental & cell biology, ecology & evolutionary biology, molecular biology & biochemistry and neurobiology & behavior. Under the leadership of Frank LaFerla, the Hana & Francisco J. Ayala Dean, the school currently has 115 faculty members who participate in cutting-edge research on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from learning and neurodegeneration, stem cell therapies and infectious diseases to environmental study and remediation and science teacher education.

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