The Virginia Tech College of Science has named Robert Cohen as head of its Department of Biological Sciences, taking the helm from Brenda Winkel, who has held the position since 2010.

Biological sciences is one of Virginia Tech’s largest departments with more than 1,400 undergraduate majors in two degree programs, biology and microbiology; 80 graduate students in its master’s and Ph.D. tracks; and 108 faculty, staff, and research scientists. It provides lecture and laboratory courses to more than 12,500 students from across campus each year. In addition, more than 200 undergraduates receive hands-on experience in the department's world-class research programs.

Faculty currently work on projects that total more than $82 million in funded research supported by such agencies as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Cohen most recently was chair of the biological sciences department in the College of Science at Clemson University from 2013 until November 2018, where he oversaw seven degree programs for more than 1,600 undergraduate students and 225 graduate students, as well as 58 faculty members. Prior to this, he served on the faculty at the Columbia University Vangelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the University of Kansas, the latter where he served as chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences.

His research has focused on molecular, cell and developmental biology, with grant support from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. He has published research in the journals Cell, Molecular Cell, Nature, Current Biology, RNA, and Development, among others. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Delaware in 1978 and a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Southern California in 1982. His postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University from 1982 to 1987 focused on molecular biology.

“I’m delighted to welcome Robert Cohen as the new head of biological sciences,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science and a professor in the Department of Statistics. “He brings a wealth of experience leading the biological sciences department at Clemson University,  and I believe he will be able to make immediate contributions here at Virginia Tech. I would like to thank Brenda Winkel for her eight years of leadership and for putting us in such a strong position for future success.”

A professor of molecular biology, Winkel has led the Department of Biological Sciences since 2010, having joined Virginia Tech in 1992. Her research focuses on the intracellular organization of metabolic pathways, particularly plant flavonoid metabolism, as well as developing novel multimetallic anticancer agents. 

“I am thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to lead the Department of Biological Sciences,” Cohen said. “It is difficult to conceive of a major world challenge, from feeding people and powering the planet to improving human and environmental health, that will not benefit from the type of research being done in our department. It is truly an exciting time for biological research, and we look forward to advancing and disseminating knowledge of the living world."

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