The City University of New York has appointed renowned biomedical researcher Kevin H. Gardner to head the structural biology initiative at the new CUNY Advanced Science Research Center.
Selected after a nationwide search, he becomes the second internationally recognized scientist to be named a founding director of the $350 million center, known as ASRC, which will bring together five interrelated disciplines of cutting-edge science when it opens in the fall of 2014.
Dr. Gardner, a molecular biophysicist and biochemist, comes to CUNY from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he held the Virginia Lazenby O’Hara Chair in Biochemistry. His interdisciplinary expertise focuses on how cells sense and adapt to their local environment. In addition to his ASRC post, he will be the Albert Einstein Professor of Chemistry at City College. The appointment is subject to approval by the CUNY Board of Trustees, which meets on September 30.
CUNY Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly said Dr. Gardner’s appointment brings the long-planned ASRC one step closer to reality. “Kevin Gardner is not only a superb scientist but also a dynamic science leader who will help lead CUNY’s continued resurgence in research. He epitomizes the interdisciplinary, integrated approach to research that we intend to be the hallmark of future scientific research at the University.”
“Kevin Gardner is a perfect fit for the highly collaborative and entrepreneurial culture we are creating in the Advanced Science Research Center,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Gillian Small, who has overseen CUNY’s multibillion-dollar expansion of innovative scientific research across the University in recent years. “He is both a national leader in his field of structural biology and someone who is known for thinking broadly, across disciplines, and being very collaborative by nature. He also has experience commercializing his research, an area we are working hard to build at CUNY.”
The ASRC, now nearing completion at the south end of the City College campus in Upper Manhattan, will be the nucleus of a University-wide research enterprise that builds on the strengths CUNY has developed in five distinct but increasingly interconnected disciplines. Each will have its own floor, but be connected to the others by an open design intended to break down some of the traditional walls of science.
“The ASRC is a great opportunity to do great science,” Dr. Gardner said. “What excites me is that it’s a building that really symbolizes the way science needs to be done today. The traditional model of working solely in your field is becoming increasingly rare. When you get experts in various fields next to each other, as we will in the ASRC, it gives people a chance to work together, to inspire each other, to get help or technical assistance from an expert in another area. That becomes a real driver of innovation and a way to truly unlock problems.”
Dr. Gardner joins Dr. Charles Vörösmarty, an internationally recognized expert in global water issues who leads the environmental sciences initiative at the ASRC. Searches for the directors of the three other initiatives — nanotechnology, photonics and neuroscience — are ongoing and appointments are expected in the coming months, Dr. Small said.
She added that Dr. Gardner will spend the next year reaching out to faculty across CUNY to organize and build the ASRC structural biology initiative and will move his own research laboratory to the center when it opens a year from now. “I see him building a strong interdisciplinary team and forging creative partnerships with scientists at CUNY and ultimately with other institutions,” she said.
Dr. Gardner said he was impressed by how elegantly the ASRC was conceived for maximum collaboration between disciplines that are at the vanguard of 21st-century science. “As I looked at the ASRC and went through each of the initiatives, I was struck by how much opportunity there will be to work with people on every floor of the building. “Now it’s my privilege and my challenge to fill out the rest of the structural biology floor with other scientists who are as drawn as I am to those opportunities,” he said.
Dr. Gardner’s field of structural biology is itself multidisciplinary. It encompasses molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics and engineering — all focused on the structure of the large “macromolecules,” such as proteins, which carry out most of the functions of cells. Dr. Gardner is an expert in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study cell sensing and adaptation to its environment.
The ASRC’s core facilities will house the most advanced NMR equipment, as well as two other high-end research technologies — X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy — that the structural biologists will use to tackle pressing research problems in different areas of biology. Dr. Gardner said that he and his team will use these tools to better understand the natural regulation of macromolecules and uncover novel ways to artificially control them.
“There are many applications that can spin out of these studies, from drug discovery to bioengineering,” he said. “For example, the work that my group has done gives us insights into the kind of switches cells use to know whether they’ve got enough oxygen or not, and how to control those switches with small molecules that we have discovered. By understanding these proteins and their triggering stimuli, we’ve laid a fantastic foundation for innovative applications like turning genes on or off within cancer cells at times of our choosing. I greatly look forward to the opportunities presented by coming to New York to work with our colleagues in the nanotechnology and photonics initiatives and elsewhere to turn those things that work in the lab into new generations of tools for scientists, engineers and beyond.”
Dr. Gardner received his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University in 1995. He conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Toronto before joining the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1998. He has been an organizer of many national conferences on structural biology, including the 2014 International Conference for Magnetic Resonance in Biological Systems.
For more about the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, please visit www.asrc.cuny.edu.
About The City University of New York:
The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY School of Public Health. The University serves more than 270,000 degree-credit students and 218,083 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and an individualized baccalaureate through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree. Nearly 3 million unique visitors and 10 million page views are served each month via www.cuny.edu, the University’s website.