Plant lab dedicated to former student, current trustee
A celebration to dedicate the Gladys Levis Allen Laboratory of Plant Sensory Physiology was held Oct. 6 at the laboratory's location in Room 252 Busch Hall.
The laboratory houses the work of Barbara Pickard, Ph.D., professor of biology. It is named for Gladys Levis Allen of Alton, Ill., an emeritus Board of Trustees member and 1942 graduate of the University, who, with her husband, Glenn L. Allen Jr., strongly supports Washington University education and research.
The celebration brought together Washington University faculty, staff end students who, over the years, have been involved in plant sensory physiology research, a Pickard research specialty, which Gladys and Glenn Allen generously have funded.
Chancellor William H. Danforth, longtime friend of Gladys Levis Allen; Barbara Schaal, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Biology; and Pickard made remarks during the celebration.
Gladys Levis Allen first was a student at Washington University during the chairmanship of Viktor Hamburger, Ph.D., Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Biology. A great admirer of Hamburger, she and her family later created the Hamburger Seminar Room in McDonnell Hall. Gladys and her first husband, Robert Levis, had four daughters, three of whom attended Washington University. She long has served on the Board of Trustees, and is a board member of the prestigious Monticello College Foundation, which established the Spencer T. Olin Fellowships for women to pursue graduate studies at Washington University.
It was partly through Robert Levis' work in biotechnology that Gladys Levis grew interested in plant physiology.
In 1985, Gladys Levis Allen indulged her curiosity about plants by taking Biology 309, a course that Pickard taught. One focus of the course was Pickard's evolving theory on how plant development and response to the environment is coordinated' a theory that did not meet with immediate acceptance by plant biologists, but one that, based on work supported by the Allens, is gaining widespread interest and respect. The heart of Pickard's model is the plant's mechanically activated calcium charinels, affected by electrical, thermal and chemical signals.
"Gladys was excited about the theory and understood its predictions in great detail," Pickard recalled in her comments. "You have to remember that as an undergraduate, Gladys specialized in animal developmental biology, and Viktor Hamburger, who also influenced me greatly, was her hero. So, she had an intellectual framework on which to base her ideas.
"Gladys contributed a great deal to Biology 309.1 remember it as the best year - of any I have ever taught. Gladys was a lively presence, asking good questions and catalyzing enthusiasm in the other students. She made friends with the students and - stimulated their learning."
Shortly after her coursework with Pickard, Gladys Levis married Glenn Allen. Their funding augments other support from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and prompted expanded funding from those agencies.
Pickard said she wanted to celebrate the naming of the laboratory at a time when her theory on plant sensory mechanisms had gained wide interest.
"Glenn and Gladys have matched their monetary support with intellectual and emotional support and encouragement," Pickard said. "Their expression of faith has been strengthening. We're grateful to Gladys and Glenn Allen for sharing the vision of this laboratory almost from its inception, and for enabling us to work out methodologies to test it and for their enthusiasm for generating still newer ideas for how plants cope with environmental and developmental challenges."
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