What do you give a man who’s just been awarded a Nobel Prize, arguably the most prestigious award in the world?
How about his own space on a campus bike rack?
That’s exactly what the University of Missouri decided to give George P. Smith, the school’s first faculty member to be awarded the Nobel. On Thursday the university will dedicate a bike rack slot on the Columbia campus to Smith, the 2018 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, which he shared with two other scientists.
“We looked around the country for ways to appropriately honor him and found that one way winners have been honored was with their own personal parking space,” said Christian Basi, university spokesman.
But Smith, who lives less than a mile from campus, rides his bike to work every day, so the distinguished professor emeritus of biological sciences doesn’t need a parking spot. Instead university officials decided they would dedicate a slot in a bike rack just south of Tucker Hall, where Smith’s laboratory is located.
To be clear, Smith says, he does ride his bike to work and around town, but, “I’m not a bike enthusiast,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not a good driver, so it’s more out of necessity. I drive very seldom.”
Still, Smith gets the whimsy in the bike slot gesture
“It’s fun,” he said. But it’s also “an advertisement. There’s no sense, if you live less than a mile from campus, not to bike or walk.”
Smith won the Nobel for his role in what Nobel officials called “harnessing the power of evolution” to produce enzymes and antibodies that have led to a new best-selling drug and biofuels.
The winners were selected by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science and shared $1.01 million in prize money. Smith’s win was announced Oct. 3 and celebrated with cheers and applause on the MU campus.
For Smith these days, walking across campus is “impossible without someone stopping me and asking to take a selfie. I’ve taken a lot of selfies.”
On Tuesday, Basi said that the minute university officials mentioned honoring Smith with a campus bike rack slot, “everyone in the room lit up and thought it was a wonderful idea.
“We are celebrating him in a lighthearted way, and it also provides a bit of a platform for sustainable living.” The bike rack will be standard, the same as the racks used by other faculty and student bicyclists across campus. Only, the university will post some sort of sign letting everyone know that this particular space belongs to Nobel Laureate George Smith.
The ceremony comes the day before the university will dedicate two residence halls and an atrium to three other trailblazers — Lucille Bluford, George C. Brooks, and Gus. T. Ridgel — who, the university says, “significantly shaped Mizzou’s history.”
The three will be honored at a dedication ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday, including tours of the residence halls.
Bluford was an African-American journalist and civil rights activist who in 1939 sued the university and won after she had been denied admission on the basis of race.
Brooks was an African-American civil rights activist who grew up in Columbia and led efforts to desegregate local restaurants. He went on to be MU director of financial aid.
Ridgel was MU’s first African-American student to earn a graduate degree, following a 1950 admissions lawsuit against the university.