Frederick W. Weyter
Frederick W. WeyterProfessor of Biology 1962-96
Fred Weyter was raised near Brewerytown in the northeast part of Philadelphia, a city of neighborhoods, and Fred's was filled with German-speaking families, near the area where my father also grew up. When I arrived at Colgate I could hear Fred's Philadelphia accent as he lectured in his cell biology course, and I guessed which part of the city he was from.
As anyone knows who has been invited to the Weyter home for a picnic or dinner, Fred is an excellent chef. Many students in his molecular biology seminar, as well as his friends, have benefited from invitations from Ellie and Fred for a get-together at their house on Payne Street. The great gourmet food he prepares can be the highlight of a semester. And part of his skill as a host is his ability to recreate the joy and friendship, the camaraderie, of the culture of his youth in Philadelphia.
Chemistry was Fred's first love as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He started in the chemical engineering program but became interested in biology and how chemical principles could be useful in explaining how cells function at the molecular level. He graduated with a degree in chemistry, then went on to earn an MA in biology at Amherst, where he enjoyed instructing undergraduates in the laboratory. He wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois on a biochemical problem using bacteria, combining his curiosity about biology and his earlier training in chemistry.
Fred started teaching at Colgate in 1962. He brought with him a broad interest in science education, so in 1965 he accepted a year's Fulbright award as lecturer in biochemistry at the University of Nangrahar in Afghanistan. In 1979-81 he was chair of the biology department at the medical school of King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia. These experiences abroad enriched his life and served as the source of innumerable stories about life in the Middle East.
Although hired to teach biology at Colgate, Fred soon developed an interest in the GNED program. He has been one of the few faculty members in the sciences to teach GNED 102, The Modern Experience in the West, required of all incoming students. In that program Fred was particularly fond of teaching portions of Darwin's Origin of Species and Mendel's famous genetic experiments with pea plants. His presence in the program gave the authenticity of a scientist's perspective to this quintessential liberal arts course.
When Fred arrived at Colgate, the biology department almost exclusively emphasized the organismal biology of higher animals and plants. Hiring a young faculty member to represent those smallest of organisms, bacteria, and to teach biology from the point of view of chemistry was a real first for the department. Of course, biological scientists were already addressing this area of the molecular organization of biological systems. In 1944 Oswald Avery '00 had demonstrated that the genetic material in cells was composed of DNA, a little known macromolecule at that time.
At first there was very little equipment in our department to teach modern bacteriology and biochemistry. Fred has told of having to use a kitchen pressure cooker to sterilize media and pipets for the bacteriology class when he first taught the course in Old Bio because a proper autoclave was not available.
As time went on, Fred saw the need for an undergraduate concentration in molecular biology. He headed the program and taught a seminar as one of the key components of the major. Only a few students entered the new concentration in those early years, but they developed a strong rapport with Fred as the leader of the fledgling program.
Bruce Citron '76 was one of those students. Bruce obtained his doctorate from the University of Iowa and spent several years at Rockefeller University. By the time our molecular biology program was beginning to attract more and more student interest, Bruce was an investigator at the National Institutes of Health, the focus of much of the important biomedical research in the United States.
Fred and Bruce approached the NIH administration about setting up a semester-long program involving science majors in a research project at NIH while taking two courses. In 1992 the program was initiated in Bethesda with Fred as its director for the first two years, and it has continued every fall since then. This unique program gives 15-17 Colgate juniors and seniors a chance to experience the life of a biomedical scientist in some of the top laboratories at NIH. Very few undergraduate science programs in the US can equal the impact this experience makes on the minds of the student participants.\
All of us in the biological sciences at Colgate owe Fred a debt of gratitude for his efforts through the years in teaching our students to appreciate a molecular understanding of our discipline.