Award-winning faculty member to give Founders Day address
Feb. 1, 2007
By David Forster
Fifteen years ago, a researcher at an American university published his findings about a molecule best known at the time for its role in depleting the ozone layer. But rather than its environmental impact, he was studying the part this molecule played in the human body.
And his findings, it turns out, were groundbreaking.
Tadeusz Malinski, now a professor at Ohio University, had figured out a way to measure the cellular output of nitric oxide. His discovery opened the door for developing new methods for earlier detection and treatment of some of the leading diseases of our time, including heart disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
His work has had profound influence around the globe -- exactly what a select group of Ohio University professors were looking for when they named Malinski their 2006 choice for Distinguished Professor, considered the university's highest faculty honor.
Malinski, the Marvin and Ann Dilley White Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, joined Ohio University in 2000. His research is in a subfield called nanoscience, which extends existing sciences into the realm of the extremely small. For years, researchers had suspected human cells produced nitric oxide, but only through indirect evidence, because it couldn't be measured. Malinski's breakthrough was the creation of a nanosensor that could detect the molecule, allowing researchers to study the role of nitric oxide in regulating critical body functions.
As part of the university's Founders Day celebration this Friday, Feb. 2, Malinski will present an overview of his research at 7:15 p.m. in Walter Hall 135. He said his presentation will be geared to a general audience.
So what does an award from Ohio University mean for a man whose work has achieved international recognition? In a word: validation. Malinski said the Distinguished Professor award is a reminder that all the hours spent in the laboratory studying very small things have significance in the bigger picture, that what he does is important.
"To be recognized by your peers," Malinski said, "has long been considered the highest recognition one can receive."
The Distinguished Professor award was made possible by an endowment created by the late Edwin and Ruth Kennedy. The endowment also funds the university's Kennedy Lecture Series and the Kennedy Museum of Art. The award, first given in 1959, recognizes professors not for their teaching skills, but for research or other contributions to their field.
Award winners are given a quarter off to further their work, along with a modest stipend to help with the costs. Each Distinguished Professor also is allowed to designate one student each year to receive a full-tuition Distinguished Professor Scholarship, a privilege that lasts until the professor retires.
Over the years, Distinguished Professors have been named in just about every field of study on campus, from the hard sciences to the fine arts. "One of the nicest things about the award is it really covers the whole gamut of what we do here," said David Drabold, a physics professor and the 2005 Distinguished Professor.
Each year's nominations are reviewed by a group of previous winners, who make their final recommendation to the university president. Because of this process, a physicist may be reviewing the contributions of a historian, and a theater professor may be evaluating the accomplishments of an economist. As a result, letters of support from others in a nominee's field play an important part in the selection process. The strongest candidates usually are those whose work has had a significant -- and global -- influence in their fields.
"We're generally looking for what impact this person had on this field and how broad it is," said Kenneth Holroyd, a psychology professor and the 2002 Distinguished Professor. Holroyd last year chaired the selection subcommittee that narrows the list of nominees to three or four finalists.
In Malinski's case, the measure of his global influence wasn't hard to find. He's already collected an armload of top honors for his groundbreaking research, and scientists around the world are using his techniques as the foundation for their own research into the role of nitric oxide in the body.
"We felt that his case was somewhat overwhelming," Drabold said. "Tad was a very unusual case. It's so impressive that he got it on the first shot. (Most Distinguished Professors didn't win the award the first time they were nominated, he said.) It's a measure of his really extraordinary achievement and reputation."
Although his groundbreaking research alone was enough to put Malinski over the top, committee members also were impressed by his recent decision to chair the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. They said someone of Malinksi's stature could easily devote all of his time to research -- and no one would ask more of him. But he agreed to take on a demanding administrative post, which demonstrates his dedication to the university as a whole.
"He was willing to take on this important and significant duty of being the chair," Drabold said. "It shows he's also concerned with developing and growing this university."
Founders Day is an observance that honors Ohio University's rich history, celebrates the current contributions of individuals who make it an outstanding academic institution and looks ahead to a vibrant future. The day's events are free and open to all. Additional highlights will include a ceremony recognizing students and faculty who have won nationally competitive awards in the past year.
David Forster works as a writer with University Communications and Marketing.