Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Kutateladze receives University’s highest faculty award


professor accepting award

Chemistry and biochemistry professor Andrei Kutateladze received the John Evans Professorship at DU's Convocation in October. Also pictured are Chancellor Robert Coombe, left, and Faculty Senate President Michael Levine-Clark.

For University of Denver chemistry and biochemistry Professor Andrei Kutateladze, success lies in making it easier to search the tiniest of haystacks for an even tinier needle. And that could lead to big things.

For his work, Kutateladze was named John Evans Professor at DU’s Convocation in October 2009. It’s the highest award the University bestows on faculty members.

 “It is somewhat easier to evaluate the significance of one’s research within your area of study,” Kutateladze says. “I am humbled and honored that my work was recognized by the awards committee among various disciplines across the campus.”

In addition to leading both undergraduate and graduate students into the fundamental field of organic photochemistry — which studies interactions of organic molecules and light — Kutateladze and his team have developed a number of promising and intriguing applications, helping scientists to better “see” and understand how nanoscopic objects interact and what goes on at the smallest molecular levels. 
By developing methods to pre-amplify the signatures of such interactions involving biologically relevant molecules, his work provides valuable clues for the identification of potential drug candidates.
 “Scientists cannot possibly test every compound in mice or other animals. There aren’t enough resources and it is inefficient,” he says. “We must at the beginning of the testing know if the compound at least recognizes a molecule of interest. Our ultra-high sensitive tools can assist in seeing how potential therapeutic agents bind to their protein targets, helping to focus pharmaceutical research without wasting time analyzing compounds that won’t ever work.”
Photochemical amplification of tiny molecular signals may also allow scientists to design portable, yet powerful devices for use by medical doctors practicing in remote areas, doing work once only possible with large, immobile laboratories.
Provost Gregg Kvistad, bestowing the John Evans Professorship at the University Convocation ceremony, recognized Kutateladze’s 23 years of research and teaching, calling him “a very quiet, very kind, very smart and very focused colleague.”
“In the process of his selection for this award, Andrei’s scholarship was scrutinized by research specialists of the highest caliber from around the world,” Kvistad said. “Their verdict was that Andrei’s research had unquestionably met the threshold of extraordinary international distinction that the Evans Professorship requires.”
Sandra Eaton, DU’s chair of chemistry and biochemistry, says Kutateladze excels in both research and teaching, and she notes that his teaching extends from PhD students to undergraduates.
“Some people are theoreticians, others do experiments. Dr. Kutateladze does both,” she says. “He uses powerful computer software to interpret chemical observations performed in his lab and provide explanations of why reactions occur. He applies his extensive knowledge of synthetic organic chemistry to make molecules with fascinating practical uses. In the past, people screened potential drugs one by one. Dr. Kutateladze is developing methods to test the interactions between multiple combinations of drugs and targets simultaneously.”
But it’s his commitment to teaching that creates a collaborative atmosphere, Eaton says.

“Work in Dr. Kutateladze’s group provides a wonderful learning environment for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral research associates,” she says. “They learn together how to design experiments and interpret data.”

Eaton, who was named John Evans Professor in 1997, says while it is a great honor, the recognition also carries with it the responsibility to continue to excel in research and to mentor junior colleagues.

Kutateladze is a University Distinguished Scholar, the author of 114 papers in leading scientific journals and has five patents to his name. He earned his PhD in 1986 at Russia’s Moscow State University.

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