Published: Feb. 27, 2023 By

Beginning this year on April 27, the Research & Innovation Office (RIO) will host the Rose M. Litman Memorial Lecture in Science, bringing national research leaders to the University of Colorado Boulder annually. The Litman Lecture celebrates the legacy of an exceptional scientist and educator with a lifelong passion for research, and a firm commitment to keeping rigorous inquiry at the heart of university life. 

“It’s intended to be a key, prominent researcher from outside CU Boulder,” said Massimo Ruzzene, acting vice chancellor for research and innovation and dean of the institutes. “The goal is to see how CU Boulder can be a convening institution for people that want to come and speak, to share their research, so we’re not only inward-looking but we’re also looking outside and we’re trying to attract the best talent to CU.” Ruzzene said the committee-chosen lecturer is intended to appeal to a wide audience. “It’s a way to disseminate and highlight the importance of high-level research that can help the community and society overall,” he said.

Rose Litman joined CU Boulder in 1975 and, until her untimely death in 1981, served as associate vice chancellor for research; director of the Office of Contracts and Grants (OCG); and associate professor of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology. It was Litman’s devotion to the importance of dynamic research, and to the advancement of CU Boulder researchers and their work, that led to her appointment as the first faculty member to head OCG. During her time in the role, Litman more than doubled research grants—awards to the Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs campuses—from $18.6 to $44 million (roughly $150 million in today’s dollars). 

“People like Professor Litman, and many others, provided a foundation for this spirit and ethos of inquiry, discovery and knowledge dissemination,” said Russ Moore, provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. Particularly as we emerge from the pandemic, he said, “We need to recommit to recognizing who we are as a major research institution … This is a huge, timely opportunity to do so.”  

Ruzzene also sees the Litman Lecture as an important opportunity to strengthen CU Boulder’s commitment to empowering researchers to aim high. “By providing resources and support, we allow people to perhaps think bigger than they would as individuals, to make sure they have all the tools to pursue their ambitions but also to expand their ambitions because they have the support and they’re not alone.” 

A legacy of innovation and impact

Prior to joining CU Boulder, Litman had been program director in genetic biology at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Before joining NSF, she earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1957 and was on the faculty of the CU School of Medicine (now the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus) and Vanderbilt University. Throughout her short but productive career, Litman was on the leading edge of the field of molecular biology, working specifically on the synthesis and replication of DNA.

Litman co-authored papers with colleagues who went on to be titans in their fields, including Arthur Pardee, with whom she worked at Berkeley, whose discoveries were critical to the development of molecular biology as a discipline. (Among other pioneering work, Pardee later proposed the concept of an unstable intermediate between protein synthesis and DNA—later identified as messenger RNA.) At the CU School of Medicine, Litman also worked alongside Waclaw Szybalski, whose later work contributed immensely to the advancement of molecular genetics.  

At the time the memorial lecture series was established in 1981, Acting Chancellor Milton E. Lipetz said, “Rose Litman will be remembered for her dedication to research, her commitment to people at the University, and her zest for life. Her greatest satisfaction was to contribute to the success of others. She encouraged and challenged others to achieve their best and always demanded the most from herself.”