H. Allen Orr, the Shirley Cox Kearns Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, has been named a University Professor. The title is awarded to faculty members who have distinguished themselves through outstanding and varied contributions to their own scholarly field as well as to the University itself.
Orr, an evolutionary geneticist, received the professorship in part because his work involves several different disciplines, such as experimental genetics and mathematical theory, and for his innovative writing, which includes his own books, critical writing for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and other writing.
The honor not only recognizes Orr's achievements, but allows him to explore new directions both in and out of his field. "I'm really excited about the position and the intellectual opportunities it provides me and I'm grateful to the University for making it possible," says Orr. "It gives me the freedom to take my work in directions that might be somewhat unorthodox."
Orr says he will also take advantage of this opportunity to try more creative teaching, offering courses that often fall between traditional disciplines, such as one he has in mind on Darwinism and religion.
In his research, Orr is interested in determining how genes cause reproductive isolation between species, and what the normal functions of these genes are and what evolutionary forces drove their divergence. He studies these problems through genetic analysis of reproductive isolation between closely related species of fruit fly. Orr is also interested in the mathematical theory of adaptation; in this work, he attempts to identify genetic patterns that might characterize the process of adaptation.
Orr has received several fellowships, including a Guggenheim, a Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science and Engineering, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Postdoctoral. He is also the winner of the Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. In 2002, he was named the University of Rochester's Professor of the Year in Natural Sciences.
Orr co-authored the book Speciation (Sinauer Associates, Inc., May 2004, with Jerry A. Coyne), a scholarly review and critique of research on the origin of species. He is also a frequent contributor of book reviews and critical essays to such publications as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
Announced in 2000, the Kearns professorship, which Orr will continue to hold, honors Shirley Kearns, the wife of David Kearns '52, a senior trustee and former chairman of the University's Board of Trustees.