Biochemistry’s Bartel receives Duncan Award

Rice News staff

It’s common to think that great teaching and great research go hand in hand, but that’s not the case. Both are rare and the combination is even more rare.

The Charles W. Duncan Jr. Achievement Award for Outstanding Faculty recognizes this by honoring outstanding achievement in both scholarship and teaching. This year’s winner is Bonnie Bartel, associate professor of biochemistry and cell biology.

“It’s a wonderful honor to be selected for the Duncan Award, especially in light of all the great research that goes on at Rice,” she said.

The Duncan Award is open to tenure-track or tenured members of the faculty with fewer than 10 years of experience, and it includes a $5,000 prize.

Bartel is quick to credit the hard work of her students — both graduate and undergraduate — as a key factor in her success. Others are just as quick to give Bartel credit for her hard work in the classroom, the lab and in service to the university.

“Bonnie Bartel is one of the rare individuals who is able to do everything incredibly well and make it look easy,” said Kathleen Matthews, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences. “Not only is her research stellar, opening new areas of discovery, she is an amazing teacher and mentor to her students. And her service to the community at Rice and at the national level is equally stunning. She is, quite simply, the type of person for whom the Duncan Award was intended.”

Bartel said it is always a challenge to balance teaching and research, so she tries to tie together concepts from both areas.

“I sometimes get insights for my research projects when I am reading for a lecture,” Bartel said. “Moreover, much of the teaching that I do occurs in my laboratory, where the teaching and research are seamless.”

Bartel’s research focuses primarily on plant growth hormones called “auxins.” Auxins promote root growth and are widely used by commercial growers, but much is still unknown about how they interact with plants at the biochemical level. Bartel’s lab uses a variety of methods to study how auxins influence Arabidopsis plants at the molecular level and how plants control levels of the active hormone. Most recently, she also has been studying the targets and functions of plant microRNAs, a newly discovered class of regulatory molecules that dampen gene expression in both plants and animals.

“The microRNAs research is particularly exciting, in part because these tiny molecules are providing a completely unanticipated layer of gene regulation,” she said.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.