Four years after the Nobel Prize went to the discoverers of DNA’s double helix, Colorado State University founded its Department of Biochemistry (renamed the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1994). Following a half-century of research, teaching and discovery, the department will celebrate its 50th birthday with an anniversary symposium, April 14-15. All events are free and open to the public.
To start the celebration, on April 14 Professor Emeritus Norman Curthoys will deliver a lecture, “Forty-five shades of glutaminase,” at 3 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Cherokee Park Ballroom. Curthoys served as department chair from 1989-2004 and retired in 2015.
April 15 will feature a full day of invited speakers and end with a reception. All the speakers are former students, said department chair Shing Ho. By inviting alumni back, organizers wanted to emphasize the deep connection that current and former students have to the department.
Biochemistry’s ‘big bang’
Following the discovery of DNA’s structure, there was an immediate rush to explore genetic tools for manipulating and understanding how the cell works, Ho said. The double helix was biochemistry’s “big bang.”
Since its founding in 1966, the department’s academic, research and pedagogical focus has continued to be the understanding of the basic chemical mechanisms of cellular function, from the level of electrons up to organisms. The department maintains a strong emphasis on human health, and biochemistry researchers have received steady support from the National institutes of Health as well as the National Science Foundation.
In the last several years, the field of biochemistry has experienced explosive growth, which is reflected in increases in student enrollment. The undergraduate population has seen about 11 percent growth per year over the last five years, Ho said. Students go on to fields in biomedical and health sciences, health care and research, among many others. Undergraduates can choose from three concentrations: general biochemistry, health and medicine or pre-pharmacy.
“We have looked at different career paths and really started to think about how to make students as successful as they can be,” Ho said. “We are invested in their success.”