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September 15, 1994

Richard Lawson Russell

Richard Lawson Russell, professor and assistant chairperson of the Department of Biological Sciences, died of cancer on Friday, Sept. 9, 1994.

He joined the Pitt faculty in 1976 as associate professor of biological sciences after serving on the faculty at the California Institute of Technology from 1970 to 1976. He received his Ph.D. in 1967 at Cal Tech and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the MRC, Cambridge, U.K, with Sidney Brenner from 1967 to 1970.

His research career focused on the development of the nervous system using the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans as a model genetic system. He was one of the early proponents of the use of this model system, including serving on the organizing committee for the first Biennial C. elegans Meeting in 1977: This organism has become one of the most actively studied and best characterized developmental systems in biology.

He was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health for 17 years, published over 40 research articles, served as a member of an NIH study section from 1980 to 1984, presented over 70 invited seminars or lectures at other universities and at national and international symposia, was an active member of the Center for Neuroscience at Pitt, and trained a number of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

In recent years, Russell focused additional energies on undergraduate biological science education. He became assistant chairperson of the Department of Biological Sciences in 1991 and led the faculty in a re-evaluation of its undergraduate curriculum resulting in the establishment of new majors and enhanced opportunities for undergraduate research. He played a central role in authorship of the recently awarded grant of $1.7 million to the department by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for enhancing undergraduate biological science education. He organized a successful HHMI undergraduate summer and academic year research fellowship program in the biological sciences in 1993. Since 1981 he had taught in the freshman Foundations of Biology series and recently taught the Honors College sections of this course.

In the greater Pittsburgh community, Russell served for five years as the commissioner of the recreation league for Dynamo Soccer, which is played by over 650 youths. For this service he was awarded the first annual Marjory S. Eisenman Community Service Award by the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition in 1993. He also was an avid runner, having completed the Pittsburgh Marathon four times. His other interests included gardening, photography, computers and travel.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Attardi Russell, associate professor of medicine and cell biology and physiology in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; his children, Daniel A. Russell, David S. Russell, Kerstin Arusha of New York, N.Y., and Laura D. Attardi of Cambridge, Mass.; his mother, Elizabeth S. Russell of Somesville, Maine; his father, William L. Russell, and stepmother, Liane B. Russell of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; his siblings, John S. Russell of Howell, Michigan, and James J. Gilmore of Somesville, Maine; his half-siblings, David L. Russell of Knoxville, Tenn., and Evelyn R. Russell of Minneapolis, Minn.

His family, friends, colleagues, former students and fellows will honor his memory by establishing the Richard L. Russell Endowment, which will support an annual lecture in the Department of Biological Sciences. A memorial service will be held in Heinz Chapel on Oct. 17, 1994, at 4 p.m.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 2

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