Tebo Announced as EBS Department Head

Brad Tebo, Ph.D.

01/02/07 Portland, Ore. 

OHSU's Department of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems (EBS) has announced Bradley Tebo, Ph.D., as its new Department Head. Outgoing Department Head Antonio Baptista, Ph.D., will assume the full-time leadership role as Director of the new NSF-funded multi-institutional Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP).

Dr. Baptista headed the department during several years of growth and transition. During his tenure, which began in 2001, OGI merged with Oregon Health & Science University. Baptista oversaw the creation of the new Department of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems following the merger of the departments of Environmental Science & Engineering and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. Most recently, he headed the multi-institutional effort--involving many EBS faculty--that led to funding for CMOP in 2006, in one of the largest center-level grants ever received by OHSU.

"Some of the most difficult administrative work has already been done," says Dr. Tebo, commenting on these departmental and institutional mergers, and much of the next few years in EBS will be focused on implementing the innovations made possible this new direction for the school and the department.

Tebo points to two new degrees as an example. The EBS department is developing two new Master's/Ph.D. programs, one in Environmental and Biomolecular Systems and the other in Environmental Information and Technology.

Both degrees would take advantage of the interdisciplinary breadth of faculty in EBS, with courses ranging from the study of microbes to an examination of broad-scale environmental systems. The new Environmental Information and Technology degree would build on an existing track incorporating courses from OGI's Department of Computer Science & Electrical Engineering, and its students would have the opportunity to work closely on CMOP projects.

"These degree proposals are fundamentally interdisciplinary," said Tebo, "and they will attract high-quality graduate students interested not only in learning cutting edge science and engineering, but in applying what they learn to new, complex problems that can only be solved through interdisciplinary approaches."

Dr. Baptista notes that this interdisciplinarity is the key to understanding linkages between human and environmental health--a connection that has been embraced by OHSU. "When the environment is sick, people get sick," said OHSU's President Emeritus Peter Kohler, M.D. The merger that led to EBS has given the department the tools it needs to study those kinds of human and environmental health problems.

"I'm especially proud of the culture we have created in this new department," says Baptista. "We have more than six million dollars a year in research programs from more than 20 funding sources; we work with a wide array of federal, state, and local agencies, along with multiple academic partners; and we're developing new educational offerings. All of that success comes from a culture founded on interdisciplinary, mutually supportive approaches to research."

One of Dr. Tebo's strengths as a new EBS Department Head is his training in oceanography, an inherently interdisciplinary field that gives him an understanding of the biological, chemical and physical underpinnings of environmental research. His background allows him to work productively with faculty and be a strong proponent of the unique opportunities afforded by having this broad range of disciplinary expertise located in a single department.

Prior to coming to OHSU in 2005, Tebo was at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and led several multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborative projects. One united investigators from Stanford, UC Berkeley and Princeton, who had backgrounds in biochemistry, molecular biology and the environmental sciences. The five year project was funded by the NSF Chemistry Program Collaborative Research Activities In Environmental Molecular Science.

"One of the most exceptional aspects of coming to OHSU and working with the EBS faculty," says Tebo, "is how well these top-notch faculty get along with each other. That makes for a great student environment and a fertile place for collaboration, which means that we can simultaneously train people to be experts in their chosen field but also to communicate and work across disciplines."

Ultimately, Tebo and Baptista both look forward to moving EBS and CMOP to OHSU's emerging campus on Portland's South Waterfront. "We have wonderful facilities in the department now," says Baptista, "and we'll be here for 5-7 more years as we prepare for the move, after which OGI will still retain a footprint in the Hillsboro area." But the prospect of developing a campus that integrates scientists, engineers, and health professionals is exciting, says Tebo, "because of the opportunity to more fully explore the educational and research possibilities at the interface of human and environmental health."

The Department of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems was formed in 2001. EBS consists of 16 regular full-time faculty, and currently has 24 Ph.D. students and 16 M.S. students. It offers degrees in Environmental Science & Engineering, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Environmental Information Technology. Some of the department's research projects are in metalloprotein biochemistry, environmental bioinorganic chemistry, air and water pollution, environmental remediation, molecular microbiology and microbial ecology, nanobiotechnology, biogeochemistry, and environmental observation and prediction.