Vinayak Agarwal Named Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar
Vinayak Agarwal, an assistant professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is one of 18 researchers around the U.S. chosen as Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars for 2023. The award recognizes his work in the lab and classroom, and how he combines the two for undergraduate research.
“I am humbled to have received this award,” says Agarwal, who also has a joint appointment with the School of Biological Sciences and is on the faculty of the Ocean Science and Engineering interdisciplinary graduate program. “The past recipients of this award are scientists and educators with demonstrated commitment not only to research, but also to pedagogy and student success, and to the scientific profession. I am humbled to be in their company, and look forward to learning from the cohort.”
In April, Agarwal also received a National Science Foundation CAREER grant thanks to his work on peptides, strings of amino acids that form proteins. Those studies are part of Agarwal’s quest to find new marine natural products that can help counter antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, which sponsors the Teacher-Scholar awards, seeks to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances throughout the world. Teacher-Scholars are all in the first five years of their faculty careers, have each created an outstanding independent body of scholarship, and represent a deep commitment to education.
“This award will allow my group to expand from the ‘chemical sciences’ — that is, finding molecules from marine organisms and making them in the lab — to genomics and to find the genes and enzymes that produce these molecules,” Agarwal says. “With the support from this award, we will be undertaking sequencing of marine genomes and metagenomes to query the molecular details of how molecules are constructed in the ocean by marine organisms.”
The Teacher part of Teacher-Scholar
Agarwal looks for ways to include undergraduates in his research, recently collaborating with them over a semester-long lab course that ended with the team publishing its findings.
“Agarwal combines science and teaching in unique and powerful ways,” adds M.G. Finn, professor and chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and James A. Carlos Family Chair for Pediatric Technology at Georgia Tech. “A great example is a recent publication with 18 undergraduate coauthors, derived from a course that he created for students in biochemistry and biology. It is also an example of the Agarwal Lab’s boundary-crossing approach, allowing them to make state-of-the-art progress in understanding how biology makes complex functional molecules. This is research and education of the highest order. “
The award will allow him to introduce students to the same lab course, which includes genome sequencing, assembly, and mining, to find genes and enzymes that construct the high value organic molecules known as natural products.
“Hands-on training in these techniques is usually not available to undergraduate students,” Agarwal said. “I hope to be able to train the next cohort of graduates that will be exceptionally well placed to develop their scientific careers in the chemical and biological sciences.”
Renay San Miguel