The latest accolades for Turkish-born UNC chemist have created another opportunity for people from different cultures to learn about each other, Aziz Sancar said this week.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt awarded Sancar with the Key to the City in honor of his 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Sancar, the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UNC’s School of Medicine, won the prize for his groundbreaking work in mapping DNA repair. He shared the prize with Duke University’s Paul Modrich and Tomas Lindahl, a researcher based in the United Kingdom.
Sancar is a native of Turkey but has worked at UNC since 1982 and is a self-avowed “fanatic about UNC sports.”
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He and his wife, UNC professor Gwen Sancar, also have worked to promote understanding between Turks and Americans through their foundation and the Carolina Turkish House (Turk Evi).
It is a “great honor” to receive the Key to the City, Sancar said, before turning his thoughts to tolerance and multiculturalism.
“I have lived in Chapel Hill longer than my hometown where I was born, and I consider myself a true Chapel Hillian,” he said. “This is a place where I can say – and I’ve said on many occasions – I am proud to be Muslim. In the current political discourse, you cannot say this in many places. Chapel Hill is a place where you can say this freely, and without any fear, so I am proud to be a Chapel Hillian.”
He’s also proud that, by winning the Nobel Prize, he has introduced more people to his native and adopted communities, Sancar said.
“I think it’s important, especially in these dangerous times that we’re living through, that we all know about one another, and that when we do, we are more alike than different,” he said. “If the Turkish House survives after Gwen and I are gone, that will be just as important to us as the Nobel Prize.”