Carnegie Mellon University
January 25, 2023

MCS Alumna Wins Lou Guillette, Jr. Outstanding Young Investigator Award

By Jon Lee Andrade

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Marketing and Communication, MCS
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The nonprofit organization HEEDS, which seeks to eliminate the harmful health effects of endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that affect the production, distribution and action of hormones in the body, has recognized Carnegie Mellon University alumna, Genoa Warner, with the Lou Guillette, Jr. Outstanding Young Investigator Award.

The $5,000 award, which honors Lou Guillette, Jr., a well-known expert in endocrine disruption with a famous passion for science communication and mentorship, is given annually to an early-career scientist contributing to the field of endocrine disruption as well as displaying a strong commitment to mentorship.

"I'm super honored," said Warner, who graduated in 2017 with a Ph.D. in chemistry. "Lou was a pillar of the environmental health field. He was an amazing scientist, but he's most known for being a mentor, for really taking care of his students, shepherding them through their training and caring about their well-being, which is what I'm trying to do. I'm honored to be considered someone who's on the path to be like Lou someday."

A former member of the lab of Terry Collins, the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry, Warner co-invented a new generation of TAML catalysts, which have patents in the United States and the European Union. The catalysts are small molecules that mimic oxidizing enzymes and break down harmful organic compounds, notably pharmaceuticals that end up in waterways.

"I cannot think of a young investigator who better embodies Lou's love of science, communication and commitment to mentoring," wrote Collins in his nomination letter for Warner. "As with Lou, she has raised her mentoring work to both an art and a science in and of itself."

Warner credits Collins for showing her how a supportive mentor can provide a positive impact.

"One thing that I'm conscious of is that I'm doing what I want to do. I'm not trying to fit my research program to what someone else wants to see. I found something that I'm really passionate about," she said. "When I was a third-year PhD student, Terry let me write a much more biological original proposal than usual in that department. That proposal is part of my research now as a primary investigator, and the NIH funded it. If Terry had said you have to do something more chemical, then that never would have happened.

After graduation, Warner worked as a postdoctoral researcher with Professor Jodi Flaws at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Now an assistant professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology with her own lab, Warner applies chemical methods to understand how chemicals and plastics impact female reproductive health.

"My lab is very interdisciplinary," Warner said. "I'm trying to ask how I can use different sources of knowledge for toxicology. How can we take someone's really cool 3D culture, flow system or organ-on-a-chip and adapt that for what we're doing?"

Warner's achievement also speaks to her commitment to training, which includes having mentored undergraduate students at Carnegie Mellon as well as doctoral students at NJIT.

"My lab mates and I consider ourselves lucky students to be guided by Dr. Warner in our journeys," wrote Hanin Alahmadi, Warner's first Ph.D. student, in an award nomination letter. "She constantly reminds us that she is always present to offer help when needed, regardless of her busy schedule."