Lunch with the Fowlks

Reconnecting with Hampton University’s Dr. Edison Fowlks is always great fun.  I’m perpetually intrigued by his radiance and his zest for learning and teaching.  For several years, our image anchored HU’s faculty page:

Hampton University _ Faculty

The three of us (pictured above) are all still going strong.  In fact, the third professor in the picture, Dr. Francisco Cornell, was just recognized with Hampton University’s highest teaching award.

Dr. Edison Folks

Dr. Edison Folks

Recently, I had opportuity to share lunch time with Dr. Fowlks and to hear about his many new studies.  He’s teaching botany this semester, which he’s never done before.  His eyes sparkle and he radiates joy as he explains the new concepts he’s teaching and how he’s getting the students to learn.

“Problem-Based Learning” techniques are second nature to Dr. Fowlks.  Seems he’s always been a hands-on teacher.

Today, he’s teaching his students to isolate genes in soybeans and splice together new combinations.  He building new knowledge in genome sequencing and “synthetic biology.”

I recall he was once working to get cotton to grow blue so it wouldn’t need to be dyed.  I’ll have to remember to ask how that went.

Dr. Fowlks recently led a summer camp on synthetic biology. He took students to Yale for ten days last summer to work in a lab.  He’s also a member of the Genome Consortium.

Fun over lunch.

Fun over lunch.

At lunch last week, we discussed bio-remediation and using living gardens to purify water.  I’ve been wondering if we could use the techniques to help an art professor who came to a sustainability lunch I held a few weeks back.

Over lunch on this particular day, Dr. Fowlks also introduced me to the concepts of “the new bio economy” and “metagenomics” which means “around genomics.”  One of his friends actually coined the term metagenomics.

I often remind myself how fortunate we are to have this genius and teacher extraordinare here at HU. He does his namesake (Edison) proud, and I’m certain he could be working anywhere he’d like.  A glance over his bio on the Hampton University’s website makes that much clear:

Dr. Fowlks received the Ph.D. degree in Plant Pathology from the Ohio State University. For four years he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Plant Molecular Biology at Michigan State University and in Molecular Virology at the University of California at Berkeley. At Michigan State and UC Berkeley, he studied the primary structure of ribosomal and viral RNAs respectively. Later at Bishop College, research in his laboratory led to the development of a two-dimensional RNA fingerprinting technique for studying mammalian RNA viruses. At Hampton University, he and his students use the tools of genomics, metagenomics, bioinformatics, and synthetic biology to focus on some unanswered questions in biology and medicine. Moreover, he is establishing DNA Microarray and Bioinformatics labs to serve as models for teaching biology as an information science and organisms as networks or circuits, and blending computer science, mathematics, and genetics into the curriculum. Dr. Fowlks instructs Principles of Heredity, Bioinformatics and Genomics and Advanced Genetics and is the director of The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Education Program housed in the Department of Biological Sciences at Hampton University.

We made a special journey over to see the liverwort outside Armstrong-Slater Hall.  It's one of the oldest strains of plant anywhere.

We made a special journey over to see the liverwort outside Armstrong-Slater Hall. It’s one of the oldest strains of plant anywhere.

Walking back to our academic buildings, Dr. Fowlks and I stopped to investigate botanical wonders--like this bloom that sprouted out of season.

Walking back to our academic buildings, Dr. Fowlks and I stopped to investigate botanical wonders–like this bloom that sprouted out of season.

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