Dennis Dean, University Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and founding director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech, was recently elected as the newest member of the Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

“I was surprised and honored by the news. Our institute has worked closely supporting Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine programs over my career, but I was not expecting to be elected. I am pleased to be recognized with the other key scientific leaders in the commonwealth,” Dean said.

Dean's election to the academy was announced on Nov. 3. He was one of five individuals elected to membership. Members of the academy represent key leaders in the science, engineering, and medical community across the commonwealth. 

With more than 200 research articles published on metals in health and disease, biological nitrogen fixation, and assembly of metal containing cofactors, Dean's research has had a profound and universal contribution to the field of study concerning cellular metabolism.

Dean has been a member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 1985 and has received consistent extramural grant funding for the last 40 years of his career from a number of notable granting agencies. 

“Virginia Tech is pleased that the Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine has recognized Dennis’ lifelong contribution to the field of biochemistry and life sciences at Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia. His research in the role of metals in health and disease have also made impacts nationally and globally,” said Dan Sui, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech.

“Dennis epitomizes what a member of the Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine should be for his extraordinary contributions to sciences, and truly deserves this prestigious honor," said X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and professor of internal medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, who has been named interim executive director for the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. "Dennis’ path-breaking discoveries in defining the biological basis for iron-sulfur cluster formation in biological nitrogen fixation have had profound paradigm-shifting impact on the fields of microbiology and biology, and are being widely explored for improving production of high value compounds.”

Dean attended Wabash College (B.A. '73) and is a Purdue University College of Science Distinguished alumnus (Ph.D. '79). He was a National Institutes of Health pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellow. During his tenure at Virginia Tech, he has served as executive director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and interim vice president for research and innovation. He previously held the title of Stroobants Professor of Biotechnology and is currently a University Distinguished Professo, has served on the editorial boards for the Journal of Bacteriology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and was elected to the publications board for the American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.

Dean currently serves on the ethics committee for the American Society for Microbiology. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Dean has also contributed to elevating life sciences education and outreach at Virginia Tech and throughout Virginia. These efforts include founding the Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and creating Biotech-in-Box with Tracy Wilkins, former director of the Fralin Biotechnology Center. 

“I want to thank my mentors, especially, Tracy Wilkins, who was the founder of the Fralin Biotechnology Center, which was the precursor to the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. Tracy was instrumental in guiding me as a scientist and administrator,” Dean said.  

Dean has an abiding interest in providing research experiences for undergraduate students and has hosted more than 50 undergraduate researchers in his laboratory. He serves on the advisory committee for the Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech, which in 2014 established the Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Conference. 

More than 200 undergraduate students participate in this conference each year, which is now supported by recurring philanthropic donations from Dean. In 2017, he established the Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research Endowment. All funds generated from the endowment are exclusively used to provide scholarships to underserved students that could not otherwise have an opportunity to gain undergraduate research experience. Each cohort for these fellowship programs is usually composed of 15 students.

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