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Retiring Biological Chemistry Professors Honored at Symposium

October 2010 –The recent Biological Chemistry L.E.M. Symposium honored the careers of retiring faculty members M. Daniel Lane, Paul Englund and Albert Mildvan, professors whose contributions in science spanned the last 40 years or more. The well-attended symposium delivered a mix of research presentations and speeches made by praiseful colleagues and the retirees themselves. Many attendees and speakers were the honorees’ “scientific children,” former trainees who have gone on to successful careers of their own.

“Today was a celebration of the intellectual process,” said Paul Talalay of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences. “Today was a grand demonstration as to how intellectual capital is created, how it is preserved and how it is handed on to one’s scientific children.”

The morning session honored Lane with presentations focused on the biology behind metabolism and obesity. The early afternoon paid homage to Mildvan, where speakers presented diverse mechanisms behind enzyme binding and interaction with their target proteins, in bacterial metabolic pathways and in cancer. The final session of the day celebrated Englund with talks on the biology of pathogenic yeast and the tiny, single-celled parasites that he studied for much of his career and is a world-renowned expert on, trypanosomes.

“Heading a research laboratory is like heading a family,” said Lane. “We are older and more experienced than our students and post-docs and we develop a lasting familial relationship with members of our research group. They have contributed to my research, as well as enriched my life and I owe them my deepest gratitude.”

Mildvan was equally proud of his laboratory alumni. “To those people who are concerned about the future about biochemical and biophysical research, I say take heart in these excellent presentations given today. Great advances will continue to flow from this kind of work.”

Based on their former lab members’ testimonies, not only did the three retirees set high standards in science, but also in establishing lasting relationships. 

“Beyond science, I think Paul Englund’s greatest contribution was the guidance he gave to all the people in his lab over the years,” said Kathryn Miller, former graduate student. “You just have to look at their CVs to see that Paul will have a tremendous impact for many, many years in the future.”

Yet, the tone of the symposium was not altogether serious. Many of the guest speakers reminisced of lab practical jokes and other fond memories, such as Englund’s chronic afternoon candy bar binges. The joviality continued into the evening with dinner and drinks at the Rusty Scupper in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

After dinner, some sincere colleagues expressed that Lane, Englund and Mildvan leave big shoes to fill for sure and day-to-day interactions will be missed. But, they have built a great department and recruited excellent faculty to biological chemistry that will continue its 100 year history with an eye toward the next big discovery.

“The scientific process is an artistic process,” said Talalay. “There is no point in asking Picasso where he got all his brush strokes, or asking Mozart where he got all his notes, and there is no point in asking a scientist how you make discoveries. None of us know the process, but we know that we here at Hopkins create an environment in which the discovery process is fostered and encouraged.”

--Vanessa C. McMains