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Kenneth E Weber
November 16, 1943 ~ December 10, 2023 (age 80) 80 Years Old
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Kenneth E. Weber, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, 80, of Portland, Maine, died peacefully on December 10, 2023. Ken was born November 16, 1943, in Newport News, VA. He served in the 513th Military Intelligence Group in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany, where he worked as a German translator. After an honorable discharge, Ken received his B.A. from Northern Arizona University, with a double major in Biology and German. He then returned to Virginia and worked as a construction supervisor before entering graduate school at the College of William and Mary, where he received his M.A. in Genetics. Ken earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he studied with the renowned Richard Lewontin and began to explore factors that affected natural selection. After completing a postdoc at the University of Minnesota, Ken joined the University of Southern Maine in 1991, where he spent the rest of his career.
People always knew where to find Ken: if he wasn’t teaching in the classroom, he was working in his lab. Ken taught thousands of students during his 32 years at USM. Although his courses included introductory cell biology and genetics, Ken’s passion was always his courses on evolution. He taught not only a general course but also those focused on specialized topics such as the evolution of cooperation and human evolution. His classes were never the same in successive terms; he constantly updated them with the latest research findings and spent large amounts of time creating the perfect slides filled with images.
Ken also mentored dozens of students, both undergraduate and graduate, who worked in his research lab. He devoted his career to exploring the evolutionary genetics of fruit flies. Surely the greatest expression of Ken’s creative genius was in the devices that he designed and built to answer long-standing questions in evolutionary genetics, including a highly unique wind tunnel that selected for upwind flight ability in extremely large populations of flies. Every other weekend, for over thirty years, Ken and his students would load thousands of fruit flies into the wind tunnel to continue one of the longest running artificial selection experiments. Remarkably, selected lines of flies continued to increase flight ability after many hundreds of generations of selection. Another ingenious device that Ken invented was the fruit fly inebriometer. It led to discoveries by other scientists, first of fruit fly genes and then of human genes connected to alcoholism and addiction more broadly.
We will always remember Ken’s incessant desire to keep learning, his integrity, and his commitment to perfection. He had profound effects on many students’ lives as they spent countless hours working together in the lab and learning from him in the classroom.
Ken is survived by his brother, Richard, in Oxford, PA, and his sister Helen, in Mt. Vernon, WA. At his request, there will be no services.