This past October, news broke that UNC-Chapel Hill’s Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the School of Medicine, Aziz Sancar, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Sancar earned the award for his work on mapping the cellular mechanisms responsible for DNA repair, a process constantly at work in the body to counteract the damage caused by outside forces like ultraviolet radiation. Work that provides the basic knowledge necessary to understand and develop treatments that better protect against DNA damage, which can result in cancer. Sancar shares this award with two colleagues, Thomas Lindahl of the Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory in Great Britain, and Paul Modrich of Duke University School of Medicine and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The World View team was attracted to the UNC professor’s life story, a perfect example of the possibilities our interconnected and diverse world offers and the life-changing role that teachers play. Sancar was born in southeastern Turkey, the seventh of eight children to a lower-middle-class, Arabic-speaking family. While his parents were illiterate, they stressed the importance of education. He received his primary education near his hometown and then completed his M.D. degree at Istanbul University in Turkey. He spent two years working as a physician in rural Turkey before coming to the United States and completing his Ph.D at the University of Texas at Dallas in the laboratory of Dr. C. Stan Rupert, one of the preeminent DNA researchers at the time. Rupert would become Sancar’s mentor, encouraging his interest in DNA and pushing Sancar to write his doctoral thesis, get his degree and pursue new research. The importance of Rupert’s involvement in Sancar’s life cannot be overstated, evidenced by the fact that Rupert, now 96 years old, was the second person Sancar called – after his goddaughter – when he learned that he had won the Nobel Prize. For an organization like World View, whose mission is to equip educators with resources to prepare students to live in an interconnected and diverse world, the story Aziz Sancar’s journey from Turkey to the United States, and eventually to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the Nobel Prize, illustrates the importance of developing our students to live in this diverse world.
Sancar understands how difficult it can be for a young person just leaving home to adjust to a new place and a new culture and has worked to help students with the transition. Eight years ago, Sancar and his wife, Gwen, bought a house on Franklin Street through their foundation, the Aziz and Gwen Sancar Foundation, and founded the Carolina Turk Evi, a place where up to four Turkish graduate students can live at one time, helping them ease into their surroundings, embodying the vision of World View. In addition to providing housing to Turkish students, the foundation aims to increase understanding of Turkey and to promote closer ties between the United States and Turkey. More information, and how to get involved can be found on their website.
World View is proud to be a part of the UNC community with Aziz Sancar. Not just for his contributions to the field of chemistry that earned him the Nobel Prize, but for his dedication to promoting a world of interconnectedness and inclusion.