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Brian Solomon’s Guide To The Stars: Biology Professor Mary Lou Guerinot

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one in a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Mary Lou Guerinot1.jpgMary Lou Guerinot is the Ronald and Deborah Harris Professor of the Sciences at Dartmouth, where she serves in the Department of Biological Sciences as well as the Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program. As a molecular biologist, Guerinot primarily studies how plants absorb and use compounds like iron and arsenic — and her research is making its way into the development of species of plants and grain that will help populations around the world get better nutrition.

Guerinot has been at Dartmouth for 31 years, since she first took a job as an assistant professor in 1985. Prior to that year, she had earned her B.S. from Cornell, Ph.D. from Dalhousie University, and she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland and Michigan State University. At the midpoint of her career, she took a detour into the administration. After serving as the chair of the biology department, Guerinot became Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Sciences from 1998 to 2001, then Vice Provost from 2001 to 2004.

While she kept her lab going throughout her time as an administrator, Guerinot ultimately decided to return to fulltime teaching and research in 2005. And her research is stellar. Her H-Index of 52 is one of the best among Arts & Sciences professors, with more than 13,000 total citations according to Google Scholar.

Guerinot’s lab focuses primarily on iron, and how plants take it up from the soil and then use it and transport it to their constituent parts. As she explains in the video below, this research can and is being used to develop, by breeding or transferring genes, new versions of plants that have more iron. If underserved populations around the world could grow, for example, a more iron-rich version of rice, that innovation could make a dent in the widespread problem of anemia.

Her work is funded by many different national and private grants, and it connects out into the real world at test farms in places like Arkansas and Puerto Rico.

Guerinot mentors students across the spectrum, including postdocs, but she enjoys including young undergraduates in her lab, and she believes hands-on experience is especially valuable for them. She always has four or five undergraduates working with her, some for all four years (although the short terms and on-off nature of the D-Plan puts a dent in continuity).

One of Guerinot’s missions has been including female students in research. Active in the Women In Science Program for more than twenty years, she takes on two undergraduate women interns per year. Guerinot notes that the department of biology has over time become gender balanced, with more than half of majors now women. (That’s still a work in progress in other departments like chemistry, math, and computer science.)

She also teaches two undergraduate courses. One is an intensive microbiology lab class that caters mostly to seniors, while the other is a first-year course on infectious diseases, also known as “how microbes rule the world.” Guerinot just finished teaching that course this winter term.

Addendum: On May 3, 2016, Professor Guerinot was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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