Brian Zoltowski

Sharing Ideas Across Oceans:
Department of Chemistry to Host International Exchange

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Chemistry professor Dr. Brian Zoltowski, known for his research in blue light photoreceptors, blends methods from chemistry, biology, and physics to push his research forward. To help graduate students improve their skills in interdisciplinary research methods and prepare them for an evolving field, he is developing a partnership between SMU and the University of Glasgow to host a graduate student on the Hilltop for five months, with plans to grow the program in the future.

Dr. Zoltowski expanded on the importance of researchers who are well trained in interdisciplinary approaches: “This particular exchange is part of a broader goal and process to provide students with interdisciplinary training so they can tackle the largest problems facing the world today. In general, providing such diverse research experience is not possible in an individual setting, so we are partnering with universities in the U.S. and abroad to provide an immersive learning experience for young researchers.”

The inspiration for this program comes from Dr. Zoltowski’s own experience as a graduate student at Cornell University. While at Cornell, he participated in a tri-institutional program in chemical biology designed to train researchers who would be prepared to lead this emerging field. Building on his graduate training, Dr. Zoltowski continues to participate in exchanges, and a recent visit to another lab inspired him to begin one for students at SMU.

“Last summer, I spent the month of August at the University of Washington in a plant biology lab to learn new techniques and to bring them back to SMU. From this positive experience, I thought it was a shame to wait to be exposed to such interdisciplinary approaches; this exposure is best when a graduate student is in the midst of their studies,” he explained.

Working with Professor John Christie at the University of Glasgow, Dr. Zoltowski’s group will host one of Dr. Christie’s students. Additionally, students in Dr. Zoltowski’s research group, which also includes undergraduates, will have the opportunity to learn more modern approaches in biology from Dr. Christie’s student. 

Speaking about the importance of exposure to a variety of research methods, Dr. Zoltowski elaborated, “The idea is that many fields are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, and to do research at the frontier of science, one has to be fluent in techniques ranging from biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. In this particular exchange a student from a plant biology lab will undergo rigorous training in our lab, where they can extend their own Ph.D. research via interdisciplinary studies.”

Dr. Zoltowski hopes that this exchange is just the beginning of a more extensive program for SMU, explaining, “I’m currently working on expanding this program and am working out the logistics of a similar exchange with a research group at Yale, where we will exchange graduate students for two to six months to receive training in each others’ labs.”