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DAA: Peter J. Kennelly

Peter Kennelly

Peter J. Kennelly

Blacksburg, VA | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 2009

Peter Kennelly compares his biochemistry laboratory to a “milliondollar playground, with all the very best toys.” Within this invigorating arena, life is good for a researcher praised as an outstanding scientist, colleague, teacher, and leader. Since establishing his independent research group at Virginia Tech in the early 1990s, Kennelly’s innovative quests have focused on protein kinases and phosphatases—enzymes that contribute to the control of many aspects of cellular life. Utilizing an unconventional approach, Kennelly’s research examines primitive organisms and the ways the modification of their proteins—acting as molecular switches—mimics their mammalian counterparts. Breakthroughs in his laboratories have implications for identifying and remedying defects contributing to diseases such as cancer. Kennelly came to Virginia Tech in 1989 as an assistant professor in the Biochemistry Department and was appointed Department Head in January 2005. His leadership skills were immediately evident, with the addition of five faculty members and launch of two new health-related focuses—insectborne diseases, such as malaria, and drug targets for tuberculosis. A renowned expert in the area of protein kinases and an international lecturer on the topic, Kennelly also co-authored ten chapters of the widely used textbook, “Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry,” and recently developed educational Web sites targeted to students preparing for biochemistry and molecular life sciences careers. “I enjoy being part of science in the largest sense of the word,” says Kennelly, “which means training future scientists.” His message, whether to students or colleagues, is identical: Science is fun. No wonder, then, that Kennelly’s laboratory isn’t the only “playground” he enjoys. “I’m a model railroader and rail fan,” he says, “and I think it’s wonderful that a hobby I started as a ten-year-old is still a lot of fun.” “The Department of Biochemistry at Purdue shaped me as a professional. The faculty and students constantly challenged me not only to learn and perfect my craft, but to develop a strong internal compass.”