Service to the scientific community

Cynthia Burrows, chair of the department of chemistry at the University of Utah, is the 2019 recipient of the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the U’s highest faculty accolade. The $50,000 cash award is presented annually to a faculty member who transcends ordinary teaching, research and administrative efforts.

A group of distinguished faculty members on the Rosenblatt Prize Committee recommended esteemed colleagues for consideration, then university President Ruth V. Watkins made the final selection.

“Dr. Burrows is considered among the foremost experts in her field, earning the highest respect and accolades from her colleagues and her peers,” Watkins said. “She also is widely admired for her service, both here at the U and in her scientific community, as an educator, administrator, mentor and collaborative colleague. She brings excellence and honor to our institution and we are grateful to have her on our faculty.”

Meet Cynthia Burrows

Burrows earned her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1975 and her Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1982. She arrived at the University of Utah in 1995 following appointments at SUNY Stony Brook and after working with Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Lehn at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. She has held the Thatcher Presidential Endowed Chair of Biological Chemistry at the U since 2013 and is a member of the U’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Burrows is an author on more than 200 scientific publications, as well as 20 book chapters and 17 patent applications. Her research investigates how DNA and RNA molecules are chemically altered by oxidation processes, and how those alterations can lead to physiological consequences such as cancer. She also studies the repair mechanisms for such alterations, which occur thousands of times in every cell every day. Recently, in collaboration with Henry White, she and her colleagues developed a system for feeding DNA through a nanopore to detect damage.  “Burrows-style nanopore technology, in and of itself, has been a field-leading translational advance, requiring mastery of state-of-the-art analytical chemistry,” a nominator wrote. Her work has implications suggesting that DNA alteration via oxidation may be related to epigenetics, or alterations of gene expression, that may have shaped the course of life on Earth.

In 2018, Burrows received two prestigious awards from the American Chemical Society: The Willard Gibbs Medal and the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry. The Norris award, wrote a nominator, is “the most coveted and highest award from ACS in this field.” She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. She received a Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 2016.

“When Cynthia speaks,” a nominator wrote, “the normal reaction is not just the ‘wow’ that emotes from brilliance, but a desire to join her field of DNA and RNA chemistry and enjoy the thrill of discovery that she shares so nicely. It is no surprise that Cynthia has won numerous teaching awards.” At the University of Utah, Burrows has won the Robert W. Parry Teaching Award, the Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award, the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Linda K. Amos Award for Distinguished Service to Women. She is also a founding leader of the University of Utah Curie Club for Women, a society devoted to advancing women scientists and building a supportive community for women in STEM fields at the U.

Since 2014, she has also served as editor-in-chief of the journal Accounts of Chemical Research, a journal of the American Chemical Society. Her leadership and mentorship have inspired her colleagues, nominators wrote, and has positioned the journal as a cross-disciplinary forum highlighting the importance of chemistry in the research community.

As chair of the Department of Chemistry, Burrows has led the development of the new Thatcher Building as a state-of-the-art biological chemistry research facility and has secured funding for endowments for five chairs for faculty, four named lectureships to allow the department to invite internationally acclaimed scientists to the department, and awards for undergraduate and graduate students. She has engaged faculty in assessing the department’s current programs and setting a vision for future directions, a nominator wrote. “Her efforts have created an environment that enabled the department to retain its most productive faculty.”

About the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence

The Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence is an endowed award, given annually to a member of the faculty at the University of Utah, “to honor excellence in teaching, research and administrative efforts, collectively or individually, on behalf of the university.”

The endowment was created to honor Nathan and Tillie Rosenblatt, on the centenary of their immigration to Utah, and in recognition of their legacy of civic leadership and generosity. Originally established in 1983, the award was later increased by Joseph and Evelyn Rosenblatt and their family. The endowment and its gifts ensure the annual award of $50,000.