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May 14, 2016

Lawrence Schwartz given named chair in integrative science

UMass.edu

Following a recommendation from Chancellor Robert C. Holub and Provost James V. Staros, Professor of biology Lawrence Schwartz was appointed as the first Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg professor of integrative science on Oct. 1. The support for the endowment was part of a gift from 1950 University of Massachusetts graduate Eugene M. Isenberg and his wife Ronnie.

The professorship, which began in 2004, incorporates and merges aspects of life sciences, engineering, entrepreneurship, business and finance. Isenberg’s original vision for the gift was to “complete the original concept of creating a professorship to demonstrate the effectiveness of an integrated approach to science, engineering and management,” according to a release detailing the appointment. Engineering Professor Michael F. Malone holds the title of Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor of Engineering, while Soren Bisgaard was the Eugene M. Isenberg Professor of Intregative Studies, until his death in Dec. 2009.

Professor Schwartz joined the faculty in 1988 as an assistant professor in zoology, which later merged with botany to form the current biology department. His love for biology extends to when he was a young boy, he explained: “As a little kid, I had a basement laboratory. When I was 13, I got my first microscope. So I guess I was predisposed to be a geek.”

Though Schwartz entered Northwestern University in Illinois as an art history major, he joined a research laboratory and quickly switched majors to biology.

“I wasn’t a good student until I got into a lab, and then it was clear what I really wanted to do. I think we’re all curious about how organisms work. I was no different.”

Following graduation, Schwartz went to the University of Washington in Seattle, where he earned his Ph.D. in zoology, and went on to receive post-doctoral training both at UW and at the University of North Carolina.

“Mike and Soren’s programs were extremely well-received by students. I want to build on their efforts to help bring scientists into entrepreneurship,” says Schwartz.

“We have over 1000 biology majors at the University, and obviously a lot more majors in other areas of natural science,” explained Schwartz. “We’re producing large numbers of science students, so this is another way to help inform them about some non-traditional science opportunities.”

“We do a great job of training our students in the sciences,” continued Schwartz, “but there is more that we can do to help them with future employment opportunities, especially in the area of biotechnology, which is a major industry in the Commonwealth.”

Schwartz has some background in entrepreneurship himself. In 2002, he was the founding science director of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute (PVLSI) in Springfield, a collaborative effort between UMass and the Baystate Medical Center. The PVLSI is a state-of-the-art biomedical research facility which started as simply as an old factory building. The mission of the PVSLI is to find new approaches for the diagnosis of treatment and disease. Dr. Schwartz also directed the Center of Excellence Apoptosis. Apoptosis is, he detailed, the process of programmed cell death. As Schwartz noted, about 70 percent of human disease can be traced to defects in the regulation of apoptosis. These diseases include auto-immunity, neurodegeneration, and cancer, he elaborated.

In addition to being a faculty leader on these two endeavors, Schwartz has also published a host of scientific articles in many notable scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and “Neuron.”

Throughout the course of his work, Schwartz has been awarded millions in grants for his research, including awards from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Energy. Aside from receiving grants, Schwartz also has served as a reviewer for grants made by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, NASA and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

Schwartz wants to expand the participation of life sciences students in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship course. In the class, “students work in teams to develop the framework for a new company,” Schwartz said, elaborating that, “It’s a unique opportunity for them to work across a number of disciplines to create a commercialization plan for novel technologies and ideas.”

Ashley Berger can be reached at aberger@student.umass.edu.

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