Grateful to be a Scientist

I’ve been working in academic science since 1987 when I started washing laboratory glassware at Northern Illinois University.  Today I’m honored to serve as a public university Professor at the University of Florida, along with some of the world’s most productive faculty — studying everything from space biology, to biochemistry, to organic crop production.

My laboratory examines how light can be used to control how plants grow, with a focus on improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables in urban environments. We assist the University of Florida strawberry breeder by generating molecular markers that speed strawberry improvement for improved flavors, aromas, and disease resistance. We also are developing novel plant protection chemistries, as well as potentially next-generation antibiotics to fight resistant bacteria. These projects provide fertile ground for training students, postdocs and visiting scientists.

For years background in communications helped others in translating science to the public. From third-grade classrooms, to retirement homes, to farmers and physicians, I was glad to provide scientific discussions of topics in food and farming. It was a pleasure to be a regular guest on podcasts and in other media, and I treasured the opportunities to answer questions for a curious, and sometimes concerned, public.

The problem is that we live in a time where malicious interests from inside and outside of the scientific community have targeted scientists, myself included.  Universities run from controversy.  They are forced into the sad decision of caving into the pragmatic satisfaction of donors, politicians, and activists, rather than standing up for science.  Politics, brand preservation and outside pressure trump the mission, even at the cost of those we are charged to  serve.

These realities have forced the university to retract me from public view.  While silent, I am not out, and am planning the next move, the next chapter.  The enemy is not the university or its leadership.  The enemy is hunger and the threats to our farmers and environment, and the individuals that take an expert stand in fighting against science and scientists. Unfortunately we will always have to strategically navigate the roadblocks set before us, which means being smarter, faster, and more clever.  I’ve done that for over three decades. And I’m not stopping now.