UD celebrates renewal of chemistry-biology interface graduate training grant
Roberta Colman is honored for her work with UD's Chemistry Biology Interface Predoctoral Training Program by John Koh, who will succeed her as director.
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8:17 a.m., July 17, 2009----Some 40 faculty, staff, and graduate students gathered in Brown Laboratory on July 13 to celebrate the University of Delaware's fourth consecutive grant from the Chemistry Biology Interface (CBI) Predoctoral Training Program, funded by the National Institutes of General Medicine. The current award totals $1.3 million over five years.

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The program provides additional opportunities for doctoral students in the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, and Chemical Engineering to gain exposure to scientific concepts and methods from across the disciplines of chemistry and biology.

The event also honored Roberta Colman, the Willis Harrington Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who stepped down as director of the CBI program after 16 years of service.

“We're in good company,” said John Koh, professor and newly appointed director of the program, as he pointed to a U.S. map showing the 20 schools that are currently home to CBI programs. The group includes MIT, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and Harvard University.

“These grants are not only very difficult to obtain but also a challenge to retain,” Koh said. “It's a real testament to Bobbie [Colman] that UD is one of just three schools in the nation that has been continuously funded by the program since its official inception in 1994.”

According to Koh, the program is aimed at producing a cadre of chemists with significant training in biology and of biologists with significant training in chemistry, without sacrificing in-depth training in a core discipline. Cross-training is accomplished through core courses, rotations, and common seminars.

“Our goal is to create a group of chemists and biologists who can speak the same language and thereby function effectively in multidisciplinary teams,” he said.

“I came to UD because of the CBI program,” said doctoral student Stephanie Schaefer. “It enables us to do rotations, which lets us sample the various labs so that we can decide where we want to spend the next five years.”

“The CBI program gives us a chance to broaden our perspective,” added Ph.D. candidate Joliene Trujillo, who has a background in biochemistry but is interested in inorganic chemistry. “Most schools wouldn't let a student make that switch, but the faculty here understand that we're all coming from different backgrounds, and they accept that there will be some training involved.”

The program, which started with just 12 faculty members in UD's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, now brings together faculty and students from three colleges and seven departments and includes 40 research groups across campus.

To date, the program has trained 60 doctoral students who are now leaders in the biotech industry, including three who hold university faculty positions.

Article by Diane Kukich
Photo by Duane Perry