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The campus celebrated the late Ken and Blaire Mossman on Friday with the official opening of the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building and the fourth annual Mossman Distinguished Lecture, featuring Adam Savage of MythBusters fame.

“The Mossmans are like fairy godparents to this place,” UT System President Joe DiPietro said during the building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Interim Chancellor Wayne T. Davis also spoke at the event, praising the Mossmans for supporting their alma mater with transformational gifts.

The Mossmans met in Knoxville in 1968 while pursuing their degrees at UT. Ken Mossman earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in health physics and radiation biology through the Institute of Radiation Biology, a joint program of UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in 1970 and 1973 respectively. He went on to teach at the university level for 40 years and in 2013 was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the US Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Blaire Mossman earned a bachelor’s degree in French from UT in 1971. She spent 30 years as a science and technology publications editor and worked for the National Biomedical Research Foundation.

Blaire Mossman died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 60; Ken Mossman died suddenly in 2014 at age 67. Their contributions to the university, which included an estate gift, fund professorships and scholarships and established the lecture series.

The Mossman Building, which opened this fall, is a 221,000-square-foot, six-floor facility that houses microbiology, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, psychology, and nutrition. It features interactive classrooms, laboratories, and ample gathering spaces and study areas.

Jay Whelan, head of the Department of Nutrition, said during his ribbon-cutting remarks that the state-of-the art facilities will help recruit and retain world-class students and faculty and propel research activities, all of which will help attract important funding for continued work.

Gladys Alexandre, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, said colleagues and students are enthused to be in a building that features colorful décor, ample windows that let in natural light, and open spaces where people can relax and collaborate.

Michael Mossman, brother of Ken Mossman, said his brother and sister-in-law loved UT and would have reveled in what their donations have done to enhance the campus.

“Ken was an educator at heart,” he said, adding that his brother believed “teachers don’t just teach, they create the environment where students learn.

“He would be so very, very proud of this building.”

The Mossman Distinguished Lecture Series was born out of the Mossmans’ desire for the campus to bring in notable science speakers who would appeal to the college crowd and the community. Past lectures have featured Bill Nye, Alan Alda, and Temple Grandin.

Savage’s lecture, like the others, was a huge draw.

Nearly 2,000 people showed up for the event, filling the Cox Auditorium in Alumni Memorial Building and spilling over into three overflow rooms where attendees watched a live stream of the presentation.

Savage talked about discovery, failure, the importance of inclusiveness in science, and how the maker movement will redefine the future.

His advice to students: read everything you can, be obsessed with your field of study, and find your passion—then be brave enough to do that one thing you can’t not do.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,