Emeritus prof, 91, passes away

Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, retired James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of physiology and internationally recognized researcher, passed away last Thursday at the age of 91.

"I never stopped asking questions," Schmidt-Nielsen wrote in his 1998 autobiography "The Camel's Nose: Memoirs of a Curious Scientist." "I have spent most of my life asking questions and finding answers to how animals manage in the world around us."

And although they may not have realized it, most current Duke students have passed Schmidt-Nielsen on campus.

The professor stands next to an imperious-looking camel in a bronze statue on Science Drive between the Biological Sciences building and the Gross Chemistry laboratory. Bunches of flowers were placed at the statue's feet this weekend after news of Schmidt-Nielsen's death spread.

Schmidt-Nielsen-who was born in Norway in 1915 and came to the University in 1952-won international acclaim for his study of the physiology of animals inhabiting extreme environments, with special emphasis on the desert.

Inducted into the Royal Society of London in 1985, Schmidt-Nielsen also received the International Prize for Biology from the Emperor of Japan in 1992. The prize is considered to be the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for non-medical biology.

"Knut is actually one of the most outstanding scientists who has ever been at Duke," said Stephen Nowicki, dean of the natural sciences, who described Schmidt-Nielsen as "generous and fun-loving and alive."

"He was continually looking for new things and new perspectives," Nowicki said. "He was forever young intellectually."

The statue of Schmidt-Nielsen was commissioned by Stephen Wainwright, James B. Duke Professor of zoology, and sculpted by British artist Jonathan Kingdom, who was well known for his portrayal of African mammals.

"It's reminiscent of heraldic statues of an earlier age of man and an animal, but here the man is off the animal, actually looking up at the animal," Nowicki said.

"What Kingdom captures is the camel looking at the man and the man at the camel. The man is interested in learning about the camel, but he does it on the camel's own terms, and the camel responds in a noble way," Nowicki added.

Schmidt-Nielsen and his dromedary companion are a familiar sight to students with classes on Science Drive, but several students said they were not aware of the statue's significance.

"I always thought 'How random that there would be a statue of a camel and a guy'," said freshman Connie Chai. "Maybe they should put up a plaque or something to tell people what the statue's for."


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