From the Chair

Dr. Behzad Mortazavi headshotThe 2020-2021 academic year is off to an exciting and interesting start. Through the unique and unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to delivering quality educational experiences for our students. Although course delivery methods look different than usual, we have adapted to ensure our students are still engaged in their coursework and have the resources they need to excel. We will continue to innovate our teaching and adapt to the current reality as we provide our students with a robust learning experience.

This past year we had 1,538 undergraduate majors and 76 graduate students enrolled in our program, with 46 participating in the Ph.D. program, 30 in the M.S. and M.A. programs. The Biological Sciences faculty continue their strong record of engaging undergraduate students in research. This past year we mentored 280 undergraduate students in our research laboratories; our highest numbers to date. As you continue to read the newsletter, you will learn more from one of our undergraduate researcher alumi, Annie Watkins, who is now part of a team at Yale University that is developing a new saliva based COVID-19 test that bypasses that uncomfortable nasal swab.

This past year our faculty were recognized for their contribution to the mission of the University. Dr. Laura Reed was recognized for her exceptional contribution to research with the President’s Faculty Research Award and Dr. Phil Harris was selected for his outstanding teaching record by the College of Arts & Sciences as the A&S Distinguished Teaching Fellow. I invite you to read in this newsletter the remarkable successes of the faculty in securing funding that is helping to answer some of the most pressing scientific issues of the day and enabling them to mentor students that will go on to make the next discoveries. I urge you to take a look at the following website for updates on the exciting research that Dr. Kevin Kocot and his students are conducting in the Antarctic on the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker: www.icyinverts.com.

As the Fall semester began, we said farewell to two faculty members: Drs. Carol Duffy and Asma Hatoum-Aslan. Carol brought such incredible value to our department, and we wish her only the best in her retirement. Asma Hatoum-Aslan left the department after 6 years of service. A highly productive faculty member, Asma received numerous grants and recognitions while at UA including the President’s Faculty Research Award.  Thank you for your service to the Department, and we wish you all the best!

This year we also welcomed a new faculty member, Dr. Brandon Kim, who joined our team. Brandon is a microbiologist and received his Ph.D. from University of California San Diego and San Diego State University.  Brandon will establish a research group that will focus on elucidating mechanisms by which bacterial pathogens gain access to the central nervous system by crossing the highly specialized blood-brain barrier. In the coming year, we will continue with additional hires in the field of microbiology, marine sciences, and biogeochemistry.

Throughout this year’s newsletter you will find highlights of our outgoing and current professors, Friends of the Department, new faculty, past students, and office staff, as well as features on department outreach, new courses, student awards and fellowships, and a very special visit from E.O. Wilson.

Finally, we are always happy to engage with prospecting students, current students, and alumni! If you are considering becoming an undergraduate or graduate student or are interested in the learning about what we are doing in the department, then this newsletter and our website will prove very exciting and useful for you. I am always excited to share the details of the happenings in our department. 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 bmortazavi@ua.edu. I would love to hear from you!