History of IAB

Abstracted from "IAB, the First 25 Years," by George C. West

In the fall of 1962, Laurence Irving, then chief of the physiology section of the Arctic Health Research Laboratory of the U.S. Public Health Service in Anchorage left the comforts of Alaska’s largest city and moved to the more typically arctic winter climates of Fairbanks. His long-time associate and technician, Leonard J. Peyton and his research assistant, L. Keith Miller, joined Irving in Fairbanks.

Prior to 1962, Irving had been collaborating with scientists around the world in studies related to human survival in the north. In the army, Irving and his son-in-law Per F. Scholander, originally from Oslo, Norway, but then from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, observed human reaction to the dark, cold, and confining conditions of arctic winter. They published papers on the affects of carbon monoxide on humans while attempting to heat tightly sealed structures for warmth in the Arctic.

Larry Irving was director of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory at Barrow, Alaska, from 1947 to 1949, and traveled around the North Slope observing and recording animal, plant, and human adaptation to the cold. He spent time with the native Eskimo people, the Nunamuit, at Anaktuvuk Pass, and gathered treasures of accumulated native experiences in the Arctic from his friend, and later colleague, Simon Paneak.

In July 1963, Irving had an opportunity to meet with and listen to a number of scientists concerned with environmental physiology in the cold at a symposium held at the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. The symposium, “Comparative Physiology of Temperature Regulation,” brought together many individuals who would play a role in the future Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB): J. Patrick Hannon and Charles J. Eagan, both human physiologists at the Aeromedical Laboratory; Eleanor G. Viereck, a mammalogist acting as editor of the symposium proceedings (future IAB faculty); Peter R. Morrison, environmental physiologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin (future IAB director); J. Sanford Hart, head of the physiology section at the National Research Council of Canada Laboratories in Ottawa; C. Ladd Prosser, comparative physiologist and professor at the University of Illinois (feasibility committee member); William R. Dawson, avian physiologist and professor at the University of Michigan of Oslo; Max Kleiber, renowned for his work in energy metabolism and retired professor from the University of California, Davis; Jack W. Hudson, environmental physiologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; Frederick A. Milan, anthropology graduate student at the University of Wisconsin (future IAB faculty); Ladislav Jansky, comparative physiologist and professor at Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia; and George C. West, avian physiological ecologist, then a postdoctoral fellow with J. Sanford Hart in Ottawa (future IAB acting director).

In November 1962, $1.1 million in federal grants, along with general obligation bonds approved by Alaska voters, funded a $29 million building on the hill west of the University of Alaska Fairbanks main campus, now known as West Ridge, as part of a proposed arctic research park. The Laurence Irving Building for Bioscience was dedicated on 16 August 1971

In 1963, the Board of Regents unanimously approved the establishment of the Institute of Arctic Biology in Fairbanks.

The Farner Committee, in its report to the University President, recommended that the institute cooperate with existing university institutes and departments to foster cooperative research with other biological agencies in Alaska to establish and maintain field sites and stations for the purpose of conducting research throughout the arctic.

Following the establishment of IAB, the University of Alaska added a line item to its budget request to the Alaska Legislature in July 1963 that IAB receive its first state appropriation.

  • IAB Directors
  • Brian M. Barnes
    Interim Director 2001
    Director 2002-present  
  • James S. Sedinger
    Interim Director 1998-2001
  • Robert G. White
    Acting Director 1985-1986
    Interim Director 1992
    Director 1993-1998
  • Francis S.L. Williamson
    Director 1986-1992
  • John Bligh
    Director 1977-1985
  • George C. West
    Acting Director 1974-1977
  • Peter Morrison
    Director 1966-1974
  • Laurence Irving
    Director 1962-1966
Cover page for the Farner Commission report, which recommended the establishment of IAB in 1962. Credit: Unknown. Download pdf
The Irving I building before the addition of Irving II or the O'Neill building. Credit: Courtesy of IAB.
An aerial view of the Irving I Building before the addition of Irving II or O'Neill Building. Credit: Courtesy of IAB.
The West Ridge area of the Fairbanks campus is home to most of the university's research activities (2007). Credit: UAF Photo by Todd Paris/Photo Manager.