The Maryland Section of the American Chemical Society has selected Katherine Seley-Radtke, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the 2016-2018 UMBC Presidential Research Professor, as the 2016 Maryland Chemist of the Year.
“It’s quite an honor,” Seley-Radtke says. “It’s important for UMBC and the chemistry department to have recognition on this level.” The top chemist prize is particularly competitive in Maryland, where a large number of chemists work at universities, government agencies, and the many science and technology companies in the region.
Seley-Radtke’s groundbreaking research focuses on drug development using nucleosides, molecules with a similar structure to the building blocks of DNA. In the last year, her research group published the first evidence of a nucleoside that inhibits activity of the MERS and SARS viruses. Her team has also made progress toward developing novel drugs to combat Ebola and Zika viruses.
Beyond her research at UMBC, Seley-Radtke is currently an elected board member of the International Society for Antiviral Research. She also served as the eighth, and first female, president of the International Society on Nucleosides, Nucleotides, and Nucleic Acids (IS3NA) in 2015 – 2016, after previously serving as vice president and secretary for the organization.
Seley-Radtke’s major accomplishment as president, she says, was to set up a scholarship program for young female scientists. The Chu Family Scholarships for Women in Science support activities that help young women build their skill sets and their confidence, such as traveling to work with collaborators or attending training workshops.
Seley-Radtke’s passion for supporting women and other underrepresented groups in the sciences extends to all areas of her work and service, as an educator, organizational leader, mentor, and researcher. “You have a duty to engage and help train the upcoming generation,” she says.
“It is also important to look out for students who come from non-traditional pathways,” Seley-Radtke emphasizes, sharing, as someone who took a non-traditional career path herself, “I wouldn’t be here without all of my mentors.” She offers support by taking time to develop close mentoring relationships with her students and writing hundreds of recommendation letters each year.
Seley-Radtke also recognizes the need for interdisciplinary training for today’s students. She is the current director of UMBC’s Chemistry/Biology Interface Graduate Training Program. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, UMBC, and University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), the program supports graduate students in pharmaceutical sciences (at UMB), chemistry, biochemistry, and biology. Students in the program have a Ph.D. mentor in their home department and pursue an aspect of their dissertation research in one of the other disciplines, which can help them develop the necessary interdisciplinary expertise to tackle complex challenges in the field.
Seley-Radtke received the Maryland Chemist of the Year award at a celebration in December. Paul Smith, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and president of the Maryland Section of the American Chemical Society, nominated her “based on both her outstanding accomplishments and leadership in the area of medicinal chemistry,” he shared, “and her tireless promotion of women and minority students in chemistry.”
Previous recipients from UMBC include Michael Summers, a Howard Hughes Investigator, the Robert E. Meyerhoff Chair for Excellence in Research and Mentoring, and University Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Joel Liebman, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Reflecting on the number of UMBC scientists to reach this level of recognition, Seley-Radtke says, “It’s a good example for students to realize that hard work pays off, and that they could do this, too.”
Banner image: Katherine Seley-Radtke; photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.