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Cori Bargmann: Reshaping science to save lives

Tuesday, March 15, 2022 - 11:47am
By:
Alan Flurry

The story of UGA alumna Cori Bargmann, part of the Georgia Groundbreakers series that celebrates innovative and visionary faculty, students, alumni and leaders throughout the history of the University of Georgia – presents her profound, enduring impact on our state, our nation and the world. The story provides another important chapter of Women's history written across the history of the Franklin College and UGA:

In the summer of 1979, neurobiologist Cori Bargmann scored her first science job in a biology lab at the University of Georgia. She spent each day preparing fly food from cornmeal and molasses. “You cannot imagine a less intellectually challenging job,” she laughed.

Nevertheless, the undergrad was soon hooked on science. “I loved these smart people talking about really deep, interesting questions. I loved how concrete the work was, and I especially loved how interested the UGA professors were in their students.”

Little did she know her future held extraordinary achievements that would reshape scientific knowledge and inquiry—from research that led to an important breast cancer drug; to deep, broad discoveries about how nervous systems are built and work; to her position now as head of the ambitious Chan Zuckerberg Science Initiative. Funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, its mandate is to support the science and technology that would make it possible to cure or manage all diseases by 2100. As impossible as that sounds, Bargmann takes the task seriously, and even believes it’s possible to achieve.

Bargmann is “a scintillating polymath” who is up to the task, explained neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne. He is now president of Stanford University, but for 10 years had an office next to Bargmann at the University of California at San Francisco, and they even collaborated on some projects. “She has a breadth of knowledge both in science and outside it in literature and art that is just astonishing.”

Erin Dolan, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Innovative Science Education in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, did her dissertation work in Bargmann’s lab at the University of California at San Francisco.

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Image: Cori Bargmann, the sole recipient of the Foundation Fellowship at UGA in the Class of 1981. (UGA file photo)

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