Gordon Hisashi Sato

Sunday, May 22, 2011 - 9:01am

Honorary Degree Citation

Gordon Hisashi Sato, you are a biologist of distinction and depth, whose focus has been both microscopic and global, and whose contributions have been at once scientific and humanitarian. You received your undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 1951 from the University of Southern California, and your Ph.D. in biophysics in 1955 from the California Institute of Technology. After postdoctoral training at Berkeley and the University of Colorado Medical School, you taught at Brandeis and at the University of California at San Diego. Author or coauthor of over 150 publications in cell and molecular biology, you are best known for your contribution to the understanding of the multiple factors required for the culture of mammalian cells outside the body. In the early 1980s, your laboratory at UC San Diego developed a breakthrough drug to treat colorectal cancer. For your work you were elected in 1984 to the National Academy of Sciences. From 1983 to 1992, you directed the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid, New York.

While directing the center, you founded the Manzanar Project. Its origins are deeply tied to your own. Your Japanese parents—an immigrant father and a first-generation mother—raised you in the fishing village of Terminal Island. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese community was forced first to relocate, and then to move into internment camps. In 1942, you and your family were sent to the Manzanar camp, where you learned how to grow food in a desert, how to be self-sufficient, and how profound were the wounds of injustice. The Manzanar Project, named for the camp where you were interned, and to which you have devoted your retirement, helps some of the world’s poorest and war-ravaged people, in Eritrea, to help themselves. It harnesses two of the Eritrean coast’s most abundant resources—intense sunlight and seawater—to grow mangrove plants that can be used not only to feed animals, but also to provide a habitat for fish and shellfish. The aim is to help impoverished coastal communities to develop a low-tech, sustainable agricultural economy. For this work you have received the Rolex Award for Enterprise and the Blue Planet Award. A National Geographic article called you “a maritime Johnny Appleseed.” A film about your work calls you “Mangrove Man.” We call you cultivator: of cells, of mangroves, of deserts, of food, of peoples, of justice. Mount Holyoke is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.