Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
October 22, 1999

Gift endows research center, chair in agricultural statistics

by Dalene Abner, ISU Foundation
A $10 million gift to Iowa State will establish the first endowed research center in the new Plant Sciences Institute.

The gift from Norma Baker of Los Angeles, Calif., will create the Laurence H. Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics. Baker made the gift in memory of her husband, Laurence, a 1954 Iowa State graduate.

Baker's contribution also will create the Laurence H. Baker Chair in Agricultural Statistics, the first endowed faculty chair in the department of statistics.

The Plant Sciences Institute was approved last month by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and has received more than $2 million in funding from the Iowa Legislature during the past two years.

"This gift from Norma Baker continues this family's remarkable history of generosity for and involvement with Iowa State University," said President Martin Jischke when he announced the gift Oct. 16 at the inaugural colloquium for the Plant Sciences Institute. "Her leadership gift to endow the Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics and to create a chair in agricultural statistics supports one of the most important scientific areas of our emerging Plant Sciences Institute -- the merging of statistics and computer science with genetic research."

"This gift was a family decision to honor a loving husband and father and to help Iowa State, the place where Larry first realized that he had a real talent in statistics and genetics," said Norma Baker. "The Plant Sciences Institute is a bold vision, and if Larry were alive today, he would be one of its strongest advocates."

Laurence Baker was born in Des Moines in 1933. He received a B.S. in genetics and a minor in statistics from Iowa State. Baker went on to build a successful career developing computer systems for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the California State University system and many other businesses and institutions. He died in December 1982 from injuries suffered in a fall.

The Laurence H. Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics is one of eight research centers in the ISU Plant Sciences Institute. It will provide technical analyses and interpretation of a rapidly accumulating "mountain of data on thousands of genes," said Colin Scanes, executive associate dean of the College of Agriculture and interim director of the institute.

The holder of the Laurence H. Baker Chair in Agricultural Statistics will lead collaborative research in the biological sciences, said Dean Isaacson, chair of the statistics department. The chairholder will have expertise in statistics relating to the biological sciences, particularly genomics or bioinformatics (integrating statistics with biological sciences such as agronomy, botany and genetics).

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