UMD's Nobel laureate returns to lecture hall named in his honor

Brian Kobilka admitted to an overflow crowd Friday at the University of Minnesota Duluth that he was "a bit more nervous here than I've been in a long time."...

In his old chair
Surrounded by applauding audience members, UMD alumnus Brian Kobilka, a recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, sits in the chair he used when he was an undergraduate student at UMD in Chemistry 200. The university placed a plaque on the chair honoring Kobilka for his achievements. (Clint Austin /

Brian Kobilka admitted to an overflow crowd Friday at the University of Minnesota Duluth that he was "a bit more nervous here than I've been in a long time."

That's saying something for UMD's only Nobel Prize winner, who returned to his old chemistry lecture hall to talk about his work figuring out gene receptors in the human body. He has been in demand for hundreds of lectures and other public events since winning the award last December.

But he has never talked in a hall named in his honor that includes a plaque on the chair he sat in for his first chemistry college courses in the 1970s. Both were surprises for Kobilka, announced before a 3:15 p.m. lecture that was standing-room-only in the 400-seat hall.

"I had no idea," he said of the honors. The chair was reupholstered and the wood refinished. A small brass plate says: "Here sat Dr. Brian

Kobilka." His former professor, Conrad Firling, remembered where his star student sat.


"I love it," Kobilka said. He bopped over to the chair, No. 97, and sat down to the delight of the audience.

He said the seat portion was wooden back then, rather uncomfortable, even, and he sat there simply out of habit.

Firling, along with Robert Carlson, created one of the first chemistry research programs for undergrads and Kobilka took full advantage, UMD Chancellor Lynn Black said. The Nobel Prize in chemistry Kobilka received shows the "benefits of undergrad research," Black said.

He also mentioned that Kobilka met his wife in Chemistry 200, now the Kobilka Lecture Hall.

Black told the students in the audience the love match was an "added benefit to attending class every day."

Black said he expects Kobilka's honor to be one of many more for UMD graduates along with other honors. "Hey, students: You, too, can have a lecture hall named after you."

Kobilka said he was nervous to speak in front of "professors I've admired since I began college." He had no specific advice about his rise to the top of the scientific ladder.

"I didn't think a whole lot into the future," he said of his UMD studies. "I was really lucky. It really helps to love what you're doing."


His lecture was more general than most, given that a great part of the audience were old friends and even relatives.

"My aunt is here," he said, another reason he was a bit nervous.

Overall, Kobilka said he enjoyed coming back to UMD for the first time since taking the Nobel.

"It feels like home," he said.

Welcoming the laureate
UMD chancellor Lendley "Lynn" Black (left) claps as the Chemistry 200 lecture hall is renamed Kobilka Lecture Hall to honor Kobilka's achievements. (Clint Austin /

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