Nipam Patel, a leading scholar in modern evolutionary and developmental biology, has been appointed director of the Marine Biological Laboratory, an affiliate of the University of Chicago, the university announced April 23. In addition, Patel will be appointed as a faculty member at the University of Chicago. His appointment is effective Sept. 4, and according to the search committee, he far outshone other candidates applying for the job. Patel’s significant scientific contributions complement a core focus of the MBL: discoveries emerging from the study of novel marine organisms, including research in comparative evolution and genomics, regenerative biology, neuroscience and sensory biology.
Patel currently holds the William V. Power Endowed Chair in Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is professor and co-chair of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and professor in the Department of Integrative Biology.
The Indian-American professor studies the evolutionary changes that have brought about the diversity of life seen today. Over the course of his career, he has established a marine crustacean named Parhyale hawaiensis as a genetic model for understanding how diverse body plans develop and evolve.
For the past 17 years, Patel has taught the MBL Embryology course, having served as co-director from 2007 to 2011. His ties to UChicago include serving as a professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy from 1995 to 2003.
“From a pool of extraordinarily accomplished candidates, Nipam distinguished himself as particularly passionate about MBL’s rich history and even more so about its promising future,” David Fithian, executive vice president of the University of Chicago, MBL trustee and co-chair of the search advisory committee, is quoted saying in a press release. “He will be a compelling spokesperson for and determined leader of the MBL’s next chapter,” Fithian added.
“It is an incredible honor to have the opportunity to lead the MBL, an institution that has had a remarkable influence on my own career through the teaching and research opportunities it has provided me over almost 20 years,” Patel said, adding he looked forward to elevating the institution’s prominence and working with the dedicated staff and scientists.
Patel grew up in El Paso, Texas and received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Princeton University and a PhD in biological sciences from Stanford University. He joined the University of California, Berkeley in 2003, where he has held the Schubert Endowed Chair, and serves as faculty curator at the Essig Museum of Entomology. Patel has served as an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and an adjunct professor at the National Institute of Genetics in Shizuoka, Japan. He began his career as a staff associate in the Department of Embryology at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, Maryland. He has written extensively and led various professional journals.
Patel succeeds interim MBL co-directors Melina Hale, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and in the College, and vice provost for academic initiatives at UChicago; and Neil Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at UChicago.
The MBL in Woods Hole, Massachusetts is a leading international center for investigation in the biological and ecological sciences. Founded in 1888, the laboratory convenes scientists from institutions around the world to collaborate in its resident and visiting research centers and to teach in its education division. UChicago and the MBL formed an affiliation in 2013.