Dr. William Campbell: Nobel Laureate, Painter, Actor, Writer
Scientist writes poetry, paints, acts, with worms—naturally—featured in his art.
October 2015 – Dr. William Campbell, scientist, Drew University fellow and Nobel Prize winner, is also an artist.
Campbell writes poetry, acts in community theater productions and paints in oils and acrylics, with his muse often the very parasitic worms he sought to eradicate as a scientist.
His poetry in particular left a lasting impression on his past students in Drew’s Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti program, which he has been associated with since 1990. Three students who took to Facebook this week to congratulate Campbell on his award also remembered his poems.
“I saved a few of them and always stop to read them when I come across them,” said Angella Dorsey-Oresto, C’04. Added Jessica Glickman, C’10: “His class on parasitology was great, especially his parasite poems. I feel very lucky to have learned from him.”
Seventeen years before his Nobel Prize, Campbell explained why his art focused on worms as well.
“I don’t consider worms nasty or immoral; I consider them beautiful,” Campbell told Drew Magazine in a fall 1998 profile (“As the Worm Turns”). “They’re just doing their own thing.”
More recently—as a guest lecturer to honors science students—Campbell emphasized the value of developing passions outside of the lab, including the arts, according to Jon Kettenring, director of RISE. As such, the scientist who spent his undergraduate years at Trinity College in Dublin epitomizes the ideal of a liberal arts education.
“The unusual thing about his lecture and interaction with students in our honors science class—part of the Baldwin Honors offerings—is that he describes his work as a poet and a painter, making the point that a scientist can also have fun in and make contributions to the arts,” Kettenring said. “It’s a great story for Drew students to hear!”
Beyond RISE, Campbell also taught students in Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, beginning in 1990 with the course, The Cultural History of Medicine, in the Arts and Letters program and ending in 2010. He also became a mainstay of Caspersen’s Medical Humanities program, which began in 1995, working with students on tutorials, theses and dissertations.
To honor Campbell, his former employer, Merck, and several friends endowed a fund in his name: the Campbell Colloquium in Science and Society. Past topics have included The Scientific Evidence for God and Playing God: Disciplinary Perspectives on Synthetic Biology.