Irene Hamlin wins 2021 Stalker Award

Irene Hamlin has been awarded the 2021 Harrison D. Stalker Award from the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

The award honors the late Harrison D. Stalker, a renowned evolutionary biologist and world-class photographer. The award is given annually to a graduating biology major whose undergraduate career combines outstanding scientific scholarship with significant contributions in the arts and humanities.

In his nomination letter, Joseph Jez, Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology and Department Chair, wrote: “Irene is a truly rare student with intellectual depth and achievement across multiple areas of Arts & Science, including biology, medicine, history, humanities, and religion. Interestingly, the mix of her faith and dedication to science led her to explore the relationship between Renaissance medicine and the Catholic Church. The result of her Medical Humanities capstone project is a concrete demonstration of how Irene combines arts and sciences and lives up to the legacy of Prof. Stalker.”

Irene completed research in Philip Budge’s Lab on parasitic helminth infections that cause lymphatic filariasis. Irene's Biology honors thesis evaluated the use of a lectin sugar-binding protein to enhance the effectiveness of an existing diagnostic test based on antibodies to a glycoprotein from the parasite, which cross-react with another parasite.

Irene also developed a project at the interface of medicine and religion that explores the Catholic Church's stance on anatomical dissection during the Italian Renaissance, with the guidance of Rebecca Messbarger, Professor of Italian in the Department of Romance Languages & Literatures.

“Irene is the student every teacher dreams of mentoring because she is electric with curiosity and she teaches as much as she learns from you. So many obstacles blocked her path to realizing her project. COVID thwarted her research trip to Italy that we had worked together to plan. Yet, she was undaunted and delved deeply into an array of studies of the relationship between anatomical science and the Church. I could not send her new titles fast enough. She absorbed them with lightning speed and both expanded and clarified her analysis. Among the most gratifying experiences for me was to witness her newfound authority over this material in class discussions in my course Disease, Madness and Death, Italian Style. It was also a testament to the critical importance of humanities to medical practice to learn from her that at her many interviews for medical school she was questioned most enthusiastically about her study of medicine and religion,” Messbarger said.

Irene is honored to receive the award named after Professor Stalker, whose vast interests and appreciation for multidisciplinary curiosity have been an inspiration to her.

“I am immensely grateful for the limitless opportunities and support I’ve had over the past four years at WashU, especially from the Biology Department. This university truly changed my life and helped launch me into the next stage of my career. I will strive to never let go of my passion for the humanities and arts in my future medical career,” she said.

Irene will receive her award during a virtual biology awards ceremony in May.