Professor Alexander Tzagoloff was born in Moscow, but his family left Russia when he was still a child. He soon found a welcome home for himself and his family at Columbia.
Now, at age 78, Professor Tzagoloff is paving the way for the next generation of Columbia scientists while honoring the University’s distinguished past in biology. He recently established the Graduate Travel Fund with a $150,000 gift to the Department of Biological Sciences.
Tzagoloff himself was inspired by a high school teacher to study biology. After graduating from Columbia College in 1959 and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1962, he returned to his alma mater in 1977 as a professor.
He has fond memories of his years as a Columbia student, but regrets that he did not have the opportunity as a graduate student to attend professional conferences that serve as forums for the exchange and generation of ideas.
“That was a time of limited financial support of scientific research, and funds for student attendance at scientific meetings simply did not exist,” he said.
Professor Tzagoloff’s gift to the Department will help cover travel expenses for graduate students who wish to attend such conferences.
Tzagoloff says that his nearly four decades on the faculty of the Department “have been exceedingly rewarding to me scientifically, and hopefully also to the many students I have had contact with as a teacher and supervisor.”
The Department of Biological Sciences was established in 1966 when the Departments of Zoology and Botany merged. Tzagoloff made his gift in memory of Professor Cyrus Levinthal, a visionary scientist and dedicated educator who brought with him from MIT the emerging field of molecular biology, and played a crucial role in building the new department.
“I feel privileged to honor the memory of a legendary biologist and Columbian with whom I had a warm, personal, and scientifically nourishing relationship,” Tzagoloff said.
Tzagoloff currently serves as the Alan H. Kempner Chair in Biological Sciences. The chair was established by the wife and children of Alan H. Kempner, a 1917 College graduate, in honor of his 70th birthday and 50th reunion.
Tzagoloff established his own legacy through studies of the genetics and biogenesis of mitochondria, the power plant of cells. In 2010, his work earned him the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime contributions in the field of genetics from the Genetics Society of America. Morgan laid the foundations of modern genetics during the more than twenty years that he worked in Columbia’s Zoology department.