Message From the Chair

Message From the Chair

Dr. Behzad Mortazavi headshotThe 2019-2020 academic year is off to an exciting start. Our faculty have been awarded more grants and contracts than ever before. We have surpassed $6.3 million in funding, the highest on record for our department. Additionally, this past year The University of Alabama achieved Doctoral Universities–Very High Research Activity status, formerly known as the R1 category, in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. This is the nation’s highest level of research activity for institutions that grant doctoral degrees. Research funding, research staff and the number of doctoral graduates are among the criteria used in determining Carnegie classifications. We are very happy to have contributed to this great achievement.

As a department, we continue to achieve a high level of excellence because of our growing number of dedicated faculty. This past spring Dr. Carla Atkinson, who joined our department in 2015 as an assistant professor, received the 2019 President’s Faculty Research Award in Physical and Biological Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering in the Emerging Scholar category. This award goes to an outstanding faculty researcher and celebrates excellence in research, creativity and scholarship. We are incredibly proud of Dr. Atkinson and her work. I encourage you to take a look at her website ( to learn more about the great work she is doing in Alabama and elsewhere.

We also welcomed three new faculty to the department this fall: Dr. Kenneth Hoadley, Dr. Nate Jones, and Dr. Monica Kersch-Becker. Dr. Hoadley is establishing his lab at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and will play a critical role in our Marine Sciences program. Both Dr. Jones and Dr. Kersch-Becker have labs located on our main campus. You can find their full profiles on the faculty portion of our website ( We are happy to have them join the department and look forward to their contributions to our program. We currently have ongoing searches to add an additional four faculty members during this upcoming year!

On top of the nationally and internationally recognized research that our faculty are conducting, we are teaching and advising an impressive number of ambitious graduate and undergraduate students. Altogether, our undergraduate majors and minors, along with our graduate students, now surpass 2,000 students! Of these exceptional students, many receive awards and scholarships, and we are very proud of them. Sommer Starr and Abigail Sisti, two of our graduate students, received the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) award. The GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students early in their career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as they pursue research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited American institutions. Additionally, this year, Dr. Matthew Jenny’s student Ryan Cooke, who is participating in our Accelerated Master’s Degree Program, was awarded The Grantland and Louise Rice Scholarship for characterizing the expression of odorant receptor genes during zebrafish development and in response to changes in the gut microbiome. Madison Brewster, a senior majoring in Biological Sciences working in Dr. Kevin Kocot’s lab, was awarded The J. Henry Walker Memorial Scholarship for her studies on the biodiversity and evolution of a poorly known group of deep-sea molluscs from Iceland. We are very proud of the work that all our students are doing in the department. The recognition of our students’ research and achievements are made possible through the generosity of donors who, over the years, have established scholarship funds. On behalf of the entire department, I would like to thank each of our donors for their generosity.

This year was also a time for us to celebrate the accomplishments of two of our outstanding faculty who retired. Dr. Martha Powell joined the Department of Biological Sciences as Professor and Department Chair in 1997 and retired with 22 years of service at UA. Among her notable research contributions, she was the first person to isolate microbodies from fungi and to show they had a role in lipid metabolism in motile cells, which is critical to understanding how chytrids have energy to infect other organisms or find substrates for decay. Her research has earned her many recognitions, including election as a fellow of the Mycological Society of America. She was recognized for her effectiveness as an educator with the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2002. She was also recognized in 2011 with the Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award, one of the most prestigious awards given annually by UA, after winning $5 million in grants to help strengthen undergraduate education in the sciences. She was a mentor and is a friend to many of us, and we thank her for her vision, dedication, and service.

Dr. Findlay retired from the department this past summer after sixteen years of distinguished service to the department as its Bishop Professor of Biology. Dr. Findlay made a significant contribution to teaching, including the mentorship of 16 graduate and post-graduate scientists, and he was a major player in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, a fellowship program funded by NSF. He was also instrumental in acquiring a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) award, a program funded through the Department of Education. Dr. Findlay committed himself throughout his career to the service of the department, college, and university. He served on the Faculty Senate and Faculty Senate Steering Committee and co-chaired the Faculty Senate Finance Subcommittee. He was awarded grants and contracts over the course of his career from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Office of Naval Research, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and Department of Education. On behalf of the department, I would like to thank Dr. Findlay for his contribution to the field of microbial ecology, dedication, and service and wish him happy retirement years.

Finally, we are always happy to engage with prospective students, current students, and alumni! If you are considering becoming an undergraduate or graduate student, or are interested in what we are doing in the department, then this newsletter and our website will be very useful for you. I am always excited to share what is going on in our department, so if you are visiting Tuscaloosa or our campus, we would love for you to visit us. If you are interested in exploring opportunities or supporting the UA Department of Biological Sciences, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me a note at I would love to hear from you!