Biochemistry Prof. Michael Wells Dies at 67

June 7, 2006

Michael Wells, biochemistry professor at The University of Arizona, died May 23 of leukemia. He was 67.

Wells was one of the founding faculty members of the College of Medicine, which was established in 1967. He later became the head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, from 1986-1995, during which time he founded the University's Undergraduate Biology Research Program, which now supports 140 undergraduate students each year thanks to national grants won by Wells.

"Mike was really excited about science and eager to share it with essentially everyone," said Carol Bender, the program's director. "The program became a reality as he envisioned it."

The program gives students the unique opportunity to work with a professor in the field in which they are interested and provides them with publication credit.

Wells was an internationally-known biochemistry researcher and locally known for his efforts to bring science to minorities, international students and elementary students through such programs as the Manduca Project, a science research program for kindergarten through third grade.

In 2002, Wells was named a Regents Professor by the Arizona Board of Regents and in 2004 he became a Regents Professor Emeritus, the highest honors given to a professor at the University.

This distinction is reserved for faculty scholars of exceptional ability who have achieved national and international distinction and who have made a unique contribution to the quality of the University through distinguished accomplishments in teaching scholarship, research or creative work.

Wells' research studies garnered him more than 150 publications in top journals and a continuous flow of funding through grants, including, most recently, a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for $1.5 million to support the Undergraduate Biology Research Program.

"I believe that Mike was instrumental in creating an atmosphere on the UA campus that embraces and values undergraduate research to a degree not found on many Research I university campuses," Bender said. "He leaves a huge legacy." Wells is survived by his wife, Mary; his father, Marshall; his sister, Kathy; his three children, Lori, Kevin, and Marshall; and 12 grandchildren.

Instead of flowers, the Wells family is accepting donations to an endowment that the Wells family has established in Wells' name. This endowment will support undergraduate research in biochemistry and molecular biophysics.

A reunion is planned for the fall for family, friends, students and colleagues of Wells to remember his life and his achievements. Details are being finalized.