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Intersection of the Unknown

"What motivates me and members of my group are the potential impacts we can have."

Intersection of the Unknown

Symmetry, the harmonious, beautiful balance found in nature, can be seen all around us—in nature, art, science—virtually everywhere.

Michigan State University Hannah Distinguished Professor Cheryl Kerfeld loves symmetry. It’s easy to understand why; she sees it at the microscopic level every day.

Kerfeld and her team in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology are finding new, innovative solutions to issues of food security and bioenergy. Through a variety of methods that transcend boundaries in the plant research laboratory, Kerfeld examines single-cell organisms and studies the process of photosynthesis.

“It’s incredibly beautiful,” Kerfeld said with a smile. “At the level of atoms and molecules, you’re able to see how something complicated simply self-assembles in a cell…what motivates me and members of my group are the potential impacts we can have.”

At the cellular level, harvested sunshine and CO2 result in bio-inspired, useful products like food, rubber or fuel. And at a time when fossil fuel supplies are depleting and fracking is becoming a norm, there’s urgency in Kerfeld’s research.

“These are important ideas we're studying,” Kerfeld said. “Our research has goals that could have tremendous benefit for Michigan, for society, and for the world.”

To move the field forward, Kerfeld says a global effort to share knowledge is essential—and so is funding.

“The endowed chairs allow us to act on hunches and insights,” said Kerfeld. “So we can really ramp up the pace and advance the field with these kinds of funds…funding that allows me to be flexible about where it's spent, we can act on our ideas much more quickly.”

Writing and submitting grant proposals take time; time that could be spent in the lab performing research.

Endowed funding made Kerfeld’s recruitment to MSU from UC Berkeley possible, where she collaborates with other leaders and is inspiring the next generation of scientists—it’s time for her to become empowered to find the next big breakthrough.

Learn more about endowed faculty positions.

Author: Sarah Wardell