Paul Ahlquist and Laura Kiessling receive Hilldale Awards

Plant pathology professor Paul Ahlquist and biochemistry professor Laura Kiessling are among four UW-Madison faculty members selected to receive Hilldale Awards, annual awards which honor contributions to teaching, research and service.

An award is given for each of the UW-Madison’s four divisions: physical sciences, social studies, arts and humanities, and biological sciences. Awardees receive a $7,500 prize and will be recognized at the UW-Madison Faculty Senate meeting on Apr. 4.

Biological Sciences: Paul Ahlquist
Paul J. Kaesberg Professor of Molecular Virology, Oncology and Plant Pathology; Lead Scientist for Virology, Morgridge Institute for Research; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Paul Ahlquist

Perhaps it’s most telling that Paul Ahlquist was nominated by two separate departments on campus: oncology/McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in the School of Medicine and Public Health, and plant pathology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, as well as the Institute for Molecular Virology.

“It is highly unusual for someone’s research to have such a large impact on pathogens of humans/animals and plants,” says Patricia McManus, professor and chair in the Department of Plant Pathology. “Most of us strive to make an impact in either human medicine or plant pathology, but Paul has done both.”

In his nomination letter, Ahlquist is referred to as a campus “crown jewel” and one of the UW’s “most-prized faculty members,” and it mentions his “superb and longstanding research record, his leadership skills, his tireless efforts in promoting science and training future scientists.” Over the past two decades, many students in their evaluations have called Ahlquist “the best” teacher they ever had at the UW.

In addition to his research into RNA viruses, HIV, papillomavirus and others, Ahlquist is a graduate student advisor in four programs, leads the UW Carbone Cancer Center Human Cancer Virology Program, serves on multiple faculty mentoring committees, teaches a popular undergraduate-graduate course in virology, and is a leader among the UW–Madison Virology Minority Summer Research Program.

Physical Sciences: Laura Kiessling
Laurens Anderson Professor of Biochemistry, H. Emil Fischer Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Steenbock Professor of Chemistry

Laura Kiessling

In 2014, the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences highlighted Laura Kiessling’s work before Congress as an example of the economic and scientific value of basic science. Kiessling’s research group, which studies the biological roles of the carbohydrates found on the outer coats of all cells, had leveraged the carbohydrates on human stem cells to support and grow them in the laboratory.

Kiessling’s lab has blazed a number of scientific trails over the last two decades, spanning the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, biology and medicine. According to her nomination letter, Kiessling’s carbohydrate work helped her achieve scientific stardom when she uncovered insights underlying the human inflammatory response, and more recently, identified a human gut protein that selectively recognizes microbes.

“Kiessling is one of the most distinguished faculty members on the UW–Madison campus,” writes Robert McMahon, Helfaer Professor of Chemistry and department chair, in that letter. Her “dedication to UW–Madison and her commitment to the highest standards in science and training are rare.”

A native of Lake Mills, Wisconsin and a co-founder of Quintessence Biosciences, Kiessling was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1999 and inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2007. She helped secure a $1.7 million grant to establish the Keck Center for Chemical Genomics and the UW Carbone Cancer Center Screening Facility, has been heavily involved in recruiting other top faculty to the UW, and directs the National Institutes of Health Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program that supports 10-15 graduate students across campus each year.

More information is available in this UW-Madison news release.