Dr. Janet Braam, PhD ’85, chair of the department of biosciences at Rice University in Houston, has been awarded the Weill Cornell Graduate School Distinguished Alumnus award.
Established in 1997, the award recognizes outstanding contributions to biomedical research in education, focusing on science and scholarship, leadership, mentoring and teaching, and service to society.
“I’m extremely honored by this recognition as a distinguished alumna of Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences,” Dr. Braam said. “My days as a graduate student there truly shaped my foundation as a scientist. I feel indebted to the institution, all my instructors, committee members and my thesis advisor, Dr. Robert Krug, for giving me a chance to fulfill my dream of being a research scientist.”
Under the mentorship of Dr. Krug in the Sloan Kettering Institute, Dr. Braam researched the fundamental functions of the influenza virus. After graduating from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences with a doctorate in molecular biology and virology, she spent five years as a postdoctoral fellow, first at Rutgers University and then at Stanford University. At Stanford she discovered that plants activate genes in response to touch stimulation, which significantly altered how scientists conduct experiments with plants.
Dr. Braam joined the faculty of Rice University in 1990. In 2012, her research, conducted at the Braam lab at Rice, revealed that plants use their circadian clocks to trigger chemicals that prevent attacking insects from feeding. This led to the discovery that post-harvest crops, following their circadian clocks, activate more cancer-fighting biochemicals at specific times of day, which could imply changes in the daily nutrient value of fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Braam looks back fondly on her time at the graduate school, where she grew from having “a very limited background in scientific research” into a confident investigator with “an extremely strong foundation,” she said.
“My education that first year was just tremendous,” Dr. Braam said. “I learned an enormous amount about biology, and an enormous amount about just how to be a scientist. So, it was a clearly an impactful time in my education.”
Dr. Braam received the award May 30 as part of the 2018 graduate school commencement ceremonies.