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Feb. 11: Nathan N. Urban Named Head of Carnegie Mellon's Department of Biological Sciences


Jocelyn Duffy

Nathan N. Urban Named Head of Carnegie Mellon's
Department of Biological Sciences

PITTSBURGH—Nathan N. Urban has been named head of Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Biological Sciences, effective March 1. He succeeds Professor John Woolford, who served as acting department head since the passing of Elizabeth Jones in June 2008. Jones became head of the department in 2002.

Urban"Nathan was one of the outstanding young faculty hired during Beth Jones' headship and is a leader in neurobiology research," said Fred Gilman, dean of the university's Mellon College of Science. "I am very much looking forward to working with Nathan as the Department of Biological Sciences builds for the future both internally and through bridges to other departments, centers and schools at Carnegie Mellon."

A member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty since 2002, Urban is best known for his research into the molecular, cellular and circuit-level mechanisms of sensory processing in the olfactory system. Using a variety of experimental and computational techniques, Urban describes the detailed physiological properties of neurons and their connections with one another, and constructs models that provide insight into how these properties give rise to more global brain functions. His work is providing scientists with a better understanding of how neurons network with one another in learning and disease.

"This is a very exciting time for the department and for biomedical sciences across campus," Urban said. "The field of biology is changing rapidly as new technologies and quantitative approaches are applied to fundamental questions about living systems. Carnegie Mellon is poised to emerge as a leader in these nascent areas that stand to revolutionize the field. 

"I am honored to be named head of the Biological Sciences Department, and I look forward to working with my many outstanding colleagues in the department and to strengthening our connections with other departments and centers in our pursuit of excellence in research and teaching in the life sciences," Urban added.

In 2005, Scientific American recognized Urban as one of the nation's top 50 science and technology innovators. His work has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communications Disorders, and the Human Frontiers Science Program. Urban has received numerous awards, including the Association for Chemoreception Sciences 2009 Young Investigator Award and the 2007 Polak Young Investigator Award. He also was presented with Carnegie Mellon's Eberly Family Career Development Professorship in the Biological Sciences and the Human Frontiers in Science Program's Young Investigator Award.

Urban received his bachelor's degree in neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh, studied mathematics and philosophy as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, and earned his doctorate in neuroscience at Pitt while a Howard Hughes Medical Institute pre-doctoral fellow. He was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, where he worked with Nobel Laureate Bert Sakmann. He is currently a member of Carnegie Mellon and Pitt's Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, and an adjunct faculty member in Pitt's Department of Neuroscience.


Pictured above is Nathan N. Urban, the new head of Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Biological Sciences.