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Last modified: Monday, September 19, 2011

Distinguished IU scientists awarded IU President's Medal

Sept. 19, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie has awarded emeriti faculty members John Preer and Ting-Kai Li with the President's Medal for Excellence. The awards are among the highest honors an IU president can bestow.

John Preer

John Preer (at podium) says a few words after receiving the President's Medal for Excellence from Indiana University President Michael McRobbie (right).

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Preer, a distinguished professor emeritus of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, and Li, a distinguished professor emeritus in the IU School of Medicine, received their awards Thursday night (Sept. 15), in recognition of extraordinary scholarship, achievement and leadership at IU.

"In different ways, both John and Ting-Kai have dedicated their careers to original research that has made a transformative difference to fellow scientists and to the world at large. Both represent the great community of scholars that extends far beyond the walls of the academy," McRobbie said.

About John Preer

John Preer is credited by colleagues and peers with path-breaking research into the genetics of Paramecium and developing new methodologies that have revolutionized molecular and ciliate biology.

Preer grew up in Florida during the Depression and earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Florida in Gainesville, after which he enrolled in the zoology department at IU Bloomington to study taxonomy with the eminent scientist Alfred Kinsey. A course with the dynamic young geneticist Tracy Sonneborn inspired Preer to switch his academic focus to protozoology. Soon after Pearl Harbor -- before he was able to complete his degree -- he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

After the war, Preer returned to Bloomington to finish his studies, focusing his research on what is known as the "killer character" in Paramecium, whereby certain strains of the protozoa can kill other, sensitive strains. He continued this work for the next 30 years; over this time, he completed his doctoral degree in 1947 and took a position at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1968, Preer returned to IU Bloomington to take a position in the department of his mentor, Sonneborn. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and, a year later, was made a distinguished professor, serving as chair of the biology department from 1977 to 1980. He officially retired in 1988, though he remained active working in his lab almost daily until just two years ago when, at the age of 91, he began to cut back on his hours. In the past five years, Preer has played an instrumental role in engaging IU Distinguished Professor of Biology Michael Lynch in the study of Paramecium, thus passing his research on to another eminent researcher.

About T.K. Li

T.K. Li is one of the nation's leading researchers in the area of alcoholism and genetics.

Ting-Kai Li

Ting-Kai Li after receiving the President's Medal.

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Li earned his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and his medical degree from Harvard University. He completed his residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, where he served as chief medical resident in 1965. He conducted research at the Noble Research and Karolinska Institutes in Stockholm and helped lead the department of biochemistry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

In 1971, Li joined the IU faculty as a professor of medicine and biochemistry. He held the title of John B. Hickam Professor of Medicine and was later named a Distinguished Professor of Medicine.

In 1985, he was named director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center at the IU School of Medicine and served as associate dean for research in the school from 1986 to 2000. In 2002, National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni announced Li's appointment as the new director of the NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Li is currently a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine. He has served as president of the Research Society on Alcoholism, a member of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Advisory Committee to the Director of the NIH, and has been the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees. In recognition of Li's long and illustrious career and his many contributions to the university and to the IU School of Medicine, Dean Craig Brater established a permanent endowed fund that supports the T.K. Li Professorship of Medical Research.

For a complete list of past recipients of the President's Medal, see