Meet UNMC Distinguished Scientist Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.

February 19, 2009

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Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.
UNMC researcher Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., answers questions about his work, life and interests.

NOTE: This profile is part of a series highlighting the 23 researchers who were named UNMC Distinguished Scientists or New Investigators for 2008. Each of these researchers will be profiled in UNMC Today leading up to a March 16 ceremony to recognize their achievements.

  • Name: Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.
  • Title: Professor in the department of pharmaceutical sciences
  • Joined UNMC: 1987
  • Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.

Describe your research in laymen terms.

Our goal is to discover new antiparasitic drugs, mainly to treat malaria.

What led you to pursue this area of research?

I grew up in Ethiopia where my parents worked at a mission school. It was this experience combined with an interest in chemistry that led to what I do today.

How do you see your research contributing to science?

Drug discovery is a multidimensional exercise where many different skill sets are required. Along the way, many interesting questions arise, some of which turn into the beginnings of other research projects.

Why did you become a scientist?

It began with a love of organic chemistry!

What is your hope for the next generation of scientists?

My hope is that young scientists will not lose the wonder that comes from trying to figure out how the world is put together. It is well expressed in a quote from Robert Boyle, among the many contenders for the title of 'Father of Modern Chemistry' and the first prominent scientist to perform controlled experiments and to publish his work with detailed descriptions of procedure, apparatus and observations. His quote read, "When I study the book of nature, I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, How manifold are Thy Works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all!"

Beyond grant funding, how do you measure success?

I suppose that we all delight in knowing that our work is appreciated or seeing a real world application of our research. More important than these are the many wonderful friendships with students, postdocs and research colleagues that are formed over the years.

What would you tell a student interested in a research career?

Spend time in the library. Work hard, keep moving forward and be tenacious until you find what you really love to do.

Do you have a hero/role model? If so, what do you admire most about this person?

My research adviser in graduate school, Dr. Thomas J. Holmes, chose to work on tough problems, even when he could have selected easier and more career-rewarding projects. Another is Father Damien, who selflessly ministered to lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

Tell us about your family and hobbies outside of the lab.

My wife, Kim, and I are blessed with five children -- Peter, Anna, Carin, Carl and Noelle. My hobbies are my children and gardening.

List three things few people know about you.

I love to hike, swim in cold water and fish on rivers and streams.

Click here to see the UNMC Honors Web site, which features photos of profiles of the medical center's Distinguished Scientists and New Investigators.