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Villanova Co-Sponsors Mendel Exhibit at Academy of Natural Sciences

Known as the “Father of Modern Genetics,” Mendel was an Augustinian friar.

An Augustinian University, Villanova honors the scientist-priest with a year-long celebration that includes the Academy exhibit, 2008 Mendel Medal presentation, “Mendel in the 21st Century” Symposium and an ongoing sustainable campus initiative.

May 6, 2008

Villanova, Pa., May 6, 2008 – A 19th-century Augustinian friar and scientist, Gregor Mendel grew 28,000 pea plants over an eight-year period to discover some of the most celebrated laws of heredity. Although it took 35 years for experts to begin appreciating the importance of his work, Mendel is known commonly today as the “Father of Modern Genetics.”

At Villanova University, one of only two Catholic Augustinian institutions of higher education in the nation, the accomplishments of this Augustinian friar, teacher, scientist and mathematician are celebrated on a daily basis as students walk into the Mendel Science Center. Not only is he the namesake of Villanova’s on-campus Science Center, but his legacy remains a vital part of contemporary study of the natural and physical sciences at the University. The work of this celebrated scientist has been honored at Villanova since 1928 when it first established the Mendel Medal for outstanding work in the field of science. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Medal.

As part of the University’s 80th Anniversary of the Mendel Medal Celebration, Villanova and The Academy of Natural Sciences have teamed up to bring the exhibit, “Gregor Mendel: Planting the Seeds of Genetics,” to Philadelphia. Co-sponsored by Villanova University and the Academy, “Gregor Mendel” will be on display at the Academy from May 24 to Sept. 28.

Visitors of the exhibit can recreate Mendel’s groundbreaking pea experiments, analyze DNA sequences and identify dominant and recessive genes. Other features include Mendel’s botanical specimens, scientific instruments, manuscripts, correspondence and even his gardening tools. The exhibit was developed by Chicago’s The Field Museum, in partnership with The Vereinigung zur Förderung der Genomforschung in Vienna, Austria, and the Mendel Museum in Brno, Czech Republic.

The journey to bring this Mendel exhibit to the city began over three years ago,” explains the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., president of Villanova University. “Father Kail Ellis, O.S.A., Villanova’s dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, learned of its development and said, ‘Let’s share this exhibit and bring it to Philadelphia.’ Now after years of hard work and ongoing collaboration, this vision is being realized. As an Augustinian university Villanova is delighted to co-sponsor this fascinating exhibit and partner with The Academy of Natural Sciences. The opportunity allows us to share our unwavering commitment to academic excellence and exploration.”

The Mendel exhibit at The Academy of Natural Sciences is only one component of Villanova University’s year-long celebration devoted to highlighting Mendel’s lasting impact on scientific discovery and exploration as well as the concept of sustainability. In addition to the Academy exhibit, the special events and initiatives include:

  • The 80th Anniversary of the Mendel Medal ceremony at The Academy of Natural Sciences on Sept. 6, 2008, coinciding with the traveling exhibition, “Gregor Mendel: Planting the Seeds of Genetics.” The Medal is awarded to outstanding scientists who have done much to advance the cause of science. This year’s recipient is the Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., Ph.D., an astronomer and former director of the Vatican Observatory. Father Coyne is currently Director Emeritus at the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. (Past recipients include the Dr. Ruth Patrick, the Academy’s Francis Boyer Chair of Limnology.)
  • A Villanova on-campus symposium entitled, “Mendel in the 21st Century: The Scientific, Social and Ethical Impact of Genetics in Our World.” This two-day interdisciplinary symposium runs Sept. 22-23, and features distinguished experts speaking on such topics as biodiversity, evolution, genetics, agricultural and global sustainability. The keynote speaker is Sean B. Carroll, Ph.D, a professor of molecular biology and genetics and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Wisconsin.
  • The “Villanova Commitment to Sustainability” is an ongoing, campus-wide initiative exploring environmental, economic and cultural sustainability in a variety of contexts. This initiative will involve student and faculty education, curriculum development, research, sustainable campus programs and community outreach.

“One of our goals in partnering with the Academy in presenting the Mendel exhibit is to educate visitors that they can appreciate the significance of his research and how, without his work, our current knowledge of the human genome would be nonexistent,” says Father Ellis. “Mendel laid the foundation from which all breakthroughs in genetic research came to be, and that is something that most people just don’t know. By highlighting Mendel for an entire year, we are about to showcase him before large and diverse audiences.”

Villanova University is a co-educational Roman Catholic institution founded by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1842. The University offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs through four colleges: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the College of Nursing, as well as the Villanova School of Law. With a total enrollment that surpasses 10,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students, Villanova is the oldest and largest Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information see

Founded in 1812, The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural history museum in the Americas and is a world leader in biodiversity and environmental research. The mission of the Academy is the encouragement and cultivation of the sciences.