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Nobel prize winner Mario Capecchi's success will live on in two endowed chairs at the University of Utah, thanks to a $2 million donation from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.

The foundation surprised the scientist with the news at a gala in his honor as the university's first Nobel Laureate.

"This will be a way of drawing excellent faculty to our department," Capecchi said on Thursday. He is looking for scientists who will build on the strength of the department's human genetics program.

He added, "We're very thankful to the Eccles family. We think they've been enormous, strong supporters of the university and we've really benefited from their generosity."

Capecchi won the 2007 prize for medicine in October along with two other scientists for their work in gene-targeting mice, revolutionizing biology research in mammals.

The endowed chairs in genetics and biology will be held on a rotating basis by two untenured, junior scientists from the university and other institutions. Holding a chair will allow the scientists to work next to Capecchi for three-year stints and receive mentoring from the prize winner.

Typically chairs are bestowed on established, tenured faculty.

"The reason we wanted to create these chairs is to recognize Dr. Capecchi's lifelong work at the University of Utah," said Lisa Eccles, the foundation's president. "At the same time [we wanted to] be able to have his team and Dr. Capecchi bring along the next generation of scientists and inspire them and hopefully build on what Dr. Capecchi has started."


* LISA ROSETTA contributed to this account.