Kenneth Olsen, a professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been installed as a George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professor of Biology. Olsen presented an address, “Plants, evolution and living in clover,” during the Sept. 27 installation ceremony in Ridgley Hall’s Holmes Lounge.
Olsen, a fifth-generation St. Louisan, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington University. As an undergraduate, Olsen completed research in the paleoethnobotany laboratory of Gayle Fritz in the Department of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences. This research spurred his initial interest in plant domestication.
Olsen earned a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He returned to WashU to study plant evolutionary biology in Barbara Schaal’s laboratory, earning his PhD in 2000. He completed postdoctoral research at North Carolina State University.
Olsen, who joined the WashU faculty in 2005, investigates plant domestication, crop de-domestication and the genetic basis of adaptation. He has authored more than 130 publications, his works have received more than 11,500 citations and he has served on the boards of multiple journals.
He also developed an educational outreach program, including the “Clover Project,” a classroom activity that has been adopted by more than 300 high school biology teachers nationwide. Olsen is an inaugural fellow of WashU’s Institute for School Partnership and serves as the Department of Biology’s associate chair of climate and facilities.
The George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professorship in Biology was established in 1983 to honor a distinguished faculty member in biology who has demonstrated leadership in research and teaching. It was funded by George Freiberg, an Anheuser-Busch executive who earned a doctorate in microbiology from Washington University in 1917. Irene Koechig Freiberg earned two degrees from Arts & Sciences and taught at the School of Medicine from the 1920s through the 1950s.