Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Dr. Elizabeth Skellam grew up near Liverpool, UK, and after an impressive academic journey across Europe and the United States, Dr. Skellam joined UNT's Department of Chemistry and BioDiscovery in the Fall of 2020. Dr. Skellam also teaches Organic Chemistry and Spectroscopy classes and is involved in various service activities for her department and college.
Her lab researches how small organic molecules are synthesized by fungi and whether they have useful applications in medicine or farming.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
How every day is different - I'm constantly meeting new people and learning from them - whether it be my colleagues, members of my research group, or students in the classroom. There are a lot of interactions, interesting conversations, and problem-solving most days; time flies by incredibly quickly - sometimes too fast.
What led you to your particular field of study?
Curiosity. I always enjoyed the physical sciences when I was in high school because they are logical. However, trying to apply this logic to biological systems that we don't fully understand can be very challenging - although this is the same reason why this research is extremely rewarding. I enjoy making discoveries especially when they are unexpected.
Your research has helped elevate UNT as a Tier 1 research university. Can you help explain your study regarding the most recent example on your plans for medicine to be delivered in plant seeds and the impact it will have?
Many medicines that we use to improve our lives already come from biological sources, including fungi and plants, but most are synthesized in a laboratory. The method of production depends on the medicine in question and there are pros and cons to each method, whether it be environmental costs, the scale of production, or expense. Often, business decisions neglect the impact on the ecosystem, which is being depleted at an alarming rate. Our study aims to determine whether there are alternative methods to produce essential medicines that are sustainable, scalable, and contribute positively to the ecosystem.
There is a feature story that it is a first-of-Its-kind study. It must have been fantastic when you learned that you received a $1.4 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation. Do you know anything about the decision process that you can share?
It was a very proud moment for us to be selected for funding, and we are very grateful. The W. M. Keck Foundation was established to support research projects that benefit society but are also distinctive and novel, and question the prevailing paradigm. The Foundation works with universities to develop concept papers; each university can submit a single pre-proposal, and projects that meet the stated criteria are invited to submit a full proposal. The Foundation also arranges site visits to meet the applicants and delve into questions that arise during the consideration of the application.
What do you see next as the most exciting areas in biotechnology and chemistry regarding the present and future development and impact of these emerging technologies?
We're at the very early stages of understanding the chemistry that can be performed using biological systems in terms of novelty, scalability, and sustainability. As we explore these systems further and establish their safety, I expect we'll see examples beyond chemicals into everyday materials and fabrics, as well as routine applications in bioremediation, crop control, and cosmetic industries.
Do you have any favorite or memorable experiences connected to your time as a professor?
I've enjoyed seeing my research group grow and become a supportive and cohesive environment. It's early days yet, but I'm excited about the projects that we're working on.
What is your proudest work moment?
Working with students and making discoveries that possibly no one else knows about until we publish.
What is your proudest nonwork moment?
Learning to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Do you have any recommendations that you would like to share?
Just that you don't always know where life is going to take you, and it's something you can't always control. So make the most of the opportunities that come your way, as you don't know where they might lead.
You’ve traveled all around Europe and the United States for your education and professional life. Is there one place that impressed you the most?
I've been very fortunate to travel to, and live in, various places. Each has been like an entirely different world, and I've [learned] so much by meeting so many new people. All have impressed me but for different reasons whether it be history, culture, expansiveness, or the people there. I hope to be able to bring a bit of the best of each work environment to my research group and classroom.
Why did you choose to end up in Denton, Texas?
I was drawn to UNT via seeing the strong research capacity within the BDI. I was looking for an independent position and felt right at home when I interviewed here a few years back. Although I grew up in big cities, I like being close to the country and getting lots of fresh air.
What is a fact about you that may surprise your colleagues?
I once appeared on a TV game show, but unfortunately didn't score any points.
What is your favorite?
A place to visit:? Wilmington, NC. It's a beautiful part of the country with amazing beaches, plus many of my friends live there.
Song:? Let Forever Be by the Chemical Brothers. It reminds me of home, and it’s great to sing along to when driving.
Hobby:? Visiting state parks and exploring new trails. I love being outside when it's not too hot.