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Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Professor equally committed to research, KU leadership

August 20, 2009

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Jeff Aube has had a busy year.

The Kansas University professor of medicinal chemistry has helped to lead a new specialized chemistry center that is charting new molecules in the fight against disease, and oversees a large lab space in the new Structural Biology Center Phase III addition.

On top of his science duties, he also played a role in recruiting Bernadette Gray-Little to become KU’s 17th chancellor.

Aube (pronounced oh-BAY) is 51, and he points to three defining moments in his academic career.

The first was when he discovered a new kind of reaction in chemistry — something that had always existed, but no one noticed.

The science gets kind of complicated, he said, but he likened it to a more common situation.

“It’s kind of like the first person who realized that chocolate and peanut butter, when you put them together, taste really good,” Aube said.

That was in the early 1990s.

Then, later, in the 2000s, he helped secure a grant from the National Institutes of Health that established a Center for Chemical Methodologies and Library Development at KU.

That grant helped establish a center that constructed chemical libraries. A library involves creating a variety of different chemicals, Aube said.

That grant was important later, Aube said.

“That was showing we could work on a higher level in the NIH system,” he said, and led to the third major accomplishment of his KU career.

That is, qualifying for the largest federal award in Kansas last year from the National Institutes of Health. The agency awarded a six-year, $20.2 million grant to KU to establish itself as one of eight institutions united to fight disease by identifying new molecules that can help the effort.

KU is a specialized chemistry center in the project, and Aube is its principal investigator.

He said he was honored this year to be asked to serve on the committee to select KU’s next chancellor. It was a role familiar to him — he served on the committee that recruited former Provost Richard Lariviere to campus.

“It’s a big responsibility, and I take it very seriously,” Aube said of serving on the chancellor search committee that helped choose Gray-Little. “One of the things I’ve been pleased about is the very positive reaction I’ve heard from my colleagues.”

Aube credits his success to hard work and being able to re-invent himself as his career moves forward.

He said he’s always enjoyed the teaching aspects of his job in addition to the research parts, and some of his good ideas have come at a blackboard in discussion with a student, he said.

One such student, Jennifer Golden, came back to work with Aube as the assistant director of the specialized chemistry center. Aube said he recruited her back to KU from private industry, where she was working at Amgen.

“He is a true leader,” Golden said of her former professor. “He treats everyone as an individual.”

As a teacher, Golden said Aube encouraged students to become independent scientists and independent thinkers.

Aube said he enjoyed the combination of artistry and science in his work — something that drew him to the field and away from his initial pre-medicine track as an undergraduate at Duke University.

He’s been at KU since 1986, and though he’s seen quite a few changes, he admits that he’s changed quite a bit, too, during that time.

One recent change has been the move from Malott Hall to a new space in the Structural Biology Center. He’s proud of his new lab space and shows it off on a brief tour.

There’s lots of fancy equipment, including some robotic technology. But Aube knows that one day it could all be obsolete.

“Everything’s on wheels here,” he said walking around a lab in the SBC building, indicating that it can all be wheeled out for new equipment. “It’s little things like that that make a big difference.”

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