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Fabulous Day of Science

Scientific symposium to celebrate the life of the late Jonathan Widom

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March 12, 2012 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Colleagues, friends and family of Northwestern University professor Jonathan Widom will gather at a special symposium Friday, March 16, to celebrate his life, creativity and scientific accomplishments. Widom died suddenly last year at age 55.

Widom, an expert in the field of chromatin biology, was the William Deering Professor of Molecular Biosciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of Northwestern’s Physical Sciences-Oncology Center.

“It will be a fabulous day of science,” said Richard I. Morimoto, the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Biology in Weinberg and an organizer of the symposium. “Speakers will reflect intellectually and scientifically about the impact Jon and his work have had on them. He made his mark on a wide range of fields, such as physical biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, and on the molecular basis of diseases, including cancer.”

Unraveling the Mysteries of Life: Recognizing the Life of Jon Widom” will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the James Allen Center, 2169 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus. Attendees are welcome to attend all or part of the public symposium but reservations are required.

Leaders in the fields of chromatin biology and gene expression will focus on the biological consequences of Widom’s discoveries as well as discuss the ongoing work in his research group. (Chromatin is the combination of DNA and proteins that make up the contents of a cell’s nucleus.)

“Jon Widom is greatly missed as he was a wonderful colleague at Northwestern who always listened to the scientific questions of others and then offered thoughtful and knowledgeable advice, usually from a quantitative viewpoint,” said Robert A. Lamb, chair of the department of molecular biosciences. “His broad knowledge made him highly sought after by colleagues, and he was always most generous with his time.”

In his research, Widom focused on how DNA is packaged into chromosomes -- and the location of nucleosomes specifically. The work has had profound implications for how genes are able to be read in the cell and how mutations outside of the regions that encode proteins can lead to errors and disease.

“Jon’s contributions to the fields of chromatin packaging and gene regulation are unquestioned and reflected in his outstanding international reputation,” said colleague Kelly E. Mayo, professor of molecular biosciences.

Symposium speakers include Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel discussing “The Genomic Code for Nucleosome Positioning” and Northwestern’s Kristin Brogaard of the Widom lab discussing “A Chemical Biology Approach to Mapping Nucleosomes at Base Pair Resolution.” Other speakers whose research was influenced by Widom’s discoveries are: Carl Wu from the National Cancer Institute, John Lis from Cornell University, Barbara Meyer from the University of California at Berkeley and David Shore from the University of Geneva.

Jonathan Widom’s parents and siblings will attend the event. His brother, Michael Widom, of Carnegie Mellon University, is chair of the session “The Dynamic Interplay of Transcription Regulation and Chromatin Structure.”

Q-and-A time will allow for audience interaction with the speakers.

Sponsors of the symposium are the Office of the Provost, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Chemistry of Life Processes Institute, department of molecular biosciences, the Physical Sciences-Oncology Center and the Cellular and Molecular Basis of Disease and the Molecular Biophysics training programs.

For more information, a schedule and to RSVP, go to the symposium's website.