An Introduction from William L. Smith, Ph.D.
Minor J. Coon Professor and Chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry
Biochemists are investigators who apply the scientific method to determining the molecular bases of biological processes. Accordingly, students in the Department of Biological Chemistry receive training in identifying important biological problems, in developing models of the underlying biochemistry of these processes, and in using appropriate bio-chemical tools (e.g. protein, nucleic acid, lipid and carbohydrate chemistry) for testing the models.
The Department of Biological Chemistry at the University of Michigan Medical School has played a prominent role in the development of the subject of biochemistry. The department dates from the appointment in the early 1900s of Dr. Victor Vaughan as the first professor of biochemistry in a medical school in the United States. Dr. Vaughan was an early member of the National Academy of Sciences and a founder of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Two graduates of the Department, Stanley Cohen, who discovered epidermal growth factor, and Marshall Nirenberg, who cracked the genetic code, are Nobel Laureates. Many other graduates are leaders in academia or industry.
There are currently forty-seven faculty members in the Department over half of whom hold joint appointments in related departments, divisions and institutes. A number of the faculty in the Department have been recognized with international, national and university awards, and by election to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. There are also several Howard Hughes Investigators, MacArthur Foundation Awardees and Pew Scholars. This is an especially exciting time for the Department as we are in the midst of a reloading phase with plans to hire a number of new faculty over the next five years. Broad areas of research emphasis are signal transduction, structural enzymology, protein processing and folding, and regulation of gene expression.
The level of research funding in the Department is strong and Ph.D. students are guaranteed financial support during their training. As a beneficiary of training in the Department of Biological Chemistry and now returning some thirty years later, it is easy for me to attest to the excitement of doing research here and the breadth and quality of the education one receives.