MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of March 1984

Carl R. Woese

Molecular Biologist

Age: 56

Published March 1, 1984

Carl Woese was a biologist who studied the evolution of microorganisms and the origins of life.

Woese was the first to develop a technology capable of determining evolutionary relationships among all prokaryotes.  The result was the identification of archaebacteria as the so-called “third form of life,” completing the first universal phylogenetic tree relating all extant life.  Using ribosomal RNA sequence as an evolutionary measure, his laboratory provided a phylogenetically valid system of classification for prokaryotes; the revised classification of the archaebacteria was a product of these studies.  His research later focused on defining ancestral gene families, determining the evolution of cellular translation, and tracing the origin of the genetic code.

Woese held the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair in Microbiology in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where was on the faculty from 1964, and was appointed to the UI Center for Advanced Study in 1989.  He was the author of numerous scientific articles published in such journals as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Systematic and Applied Microbiology, Science, and Nature.

Woese received an A.B. (1950) from Amherst College and a Ph.D. (1953) from Yale University.  (Deceased, December 30, 2012.)

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Carl R. Woese In the Media

"The Man Who Rewrote the Tree of Life"

Nova Next
Carl R. Woese , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
Read More

About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

Pamela O. Long, Historian of Science and Technology

Class of 2014

Review Affirms Impact and Inspiration of MacArthur Fellows Program thumbnail

Review Affirms Impact and Inspiration of MacArthur Fellows Program

“We are proud of the Fellows Program and its impact on the lives of not just those selected but people all over the world." Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows program. Read More
"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’" thumbnail

"Five Myths About the MacArthur ‘Genius Grants’"

Commentary by Cecilia Conrad originally published in the Washington Post Read More