David Walt Named a University Professor

The Robinson Professor of Chemistry joins three other prominent faculty members in September with the title

David Walt with Craig Venter and Anthony Monaco

David R. Walt, the Robinson Professor of Chemistry who does groundbreaking work in the biological applications of microwell arrays, has been named a University Professor, a designation currently held by only three other Tufts University faculty members.

The president and provost recommend faculty for University Professorships, which are approved by the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs Committee. The designation is an honor reserved for faculty of unusual scholarly eminence who work across schools and campuses.

Walt, who joined the Tufts chemistry faculty in 1981, says he is honored to be accorded the prestigious title, which will take effect in September. “I have devoted my entire career to Tufts,” he says, “and it is a privilege to be surrounded by wonderful faculty and staff colleagues as well as marvelous students. I am both humbled and thrilled by the administration’s and trustees’ appointment of me as University Professor.”

Walt has published more than 300 papers and holds more than 70 patents. The Walt Laboratory at Tufts is world-renowned for its pioneering work in developing optical microarray technology for disease detection and cancer diagnostics and in answering fundamental questions about basic biological processes, including protein folding.

He is a founder of Illumina, a company based on Walt’s invention of a miniature lab platform that allows researchers to conduct genetic screening and other repetitive experiments quickly and cheaply. Illumina offers products and services for genetic sequencing and gene expression, and its technologies are used by academic, government, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other institutions around the globe. Walt also founded and serves on the board of Quanterix, a privately held company focused on analysis of single molecules, for ultra-sensitive protein analysis, with applications being developed for medical diagnosis.

Walt has long been involved in efforts to improve science education in local high schools and to get young people excited about science. In 2010 he founded the Chemistry Organized Outreach Partnership (CO-OP), which aims to revitalize science classrooms by bringing experiments, modern techniques and equipment to urban high schools. So far the program has been introduced to Massachusetts high school students in Somerville, Medford, Malden and Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.

Walt also holds appointments in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in Tufts School of Engineering, the program in Genetics in the Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences, the Department of Oral Medicine at the School of Dental Medicine and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. He received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in chemical biology from SUNY at Stony Brook. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. He recently received the Esselen Award for chemistry in the public interest, one of the most prestigious honors conferred by the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society.

The other University Professors at Tufts are Daniel C. Dennett, the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies; Irwin H. Rosenberg, the Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition, former dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts; and former provost Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor.

Tufts President Burton C. Hallowell created the position of University Professor in 1975, naming William B. Schwartz, a former professor and chair of medicine at the School of Medicine who made landmark discoveries that revolutionized our understanding of the pathophysiology and management of acid-base and electrolyte disorders, as the first recipient. The second faculty member to hold the title was Allan Cormack, a physicist who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work that led to the development of the CAT scan.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.

A note regarding the above references to the Sackler School: In December 2019, Tufts University announced that it would remove the Sackler name from all programs and facilities—including the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. At that time, the school was renamed the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

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