Baylor Recruits Aaron Wright, Ph.D., from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to Serve as The Schofield Endowed Chair in Biomedical Studies
Wright brings highly funded interdisciplinary research laboratory at the interface of the microbiome, health and environment to Baylor
By Derek Smith, Baylor University Marketing & Communications
WACO, Texas (Sept. 15, 2022) – Baylor University announced today the appointment of Aaron Wright, Ph.D., as the inaugural James R. Schofield Endowed Chair in Biomedical Studies. Wright comes to Baylor from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, and will provide interdisciplinary research and leadership from within the Department of Biology.
“When I first saw this position, I was amazed at how great a fit it seemed for my research background, but it was when I started interacting with people at Baylor that I became even more excited,” Wright said. “It is clear that faculty are motivated to do great research and are not bound by disciplinary walls. The integration of faith and scholarship was another motivating factor, and it became clear Baylor not only talks about this but embodies it.”
Prior to joining the Baylor faculty this summer, Wright spent nearly 14 years as the Biological Sciences Group Director and Senior Scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and held a joint faculty appointment for eight years at Washington State University’s Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.
Wright, whose academic background bridges both chemistry and biology, brings an interdisciplinary approach to research that focuses on the relationship between the microbiome, environmental factors and human health. In his position as The Schofield Endowed Chair in Biomedical Studies, he will promote cross-disciplinary research partnerships to address global challenges in biomedicine.
“I am excited to welcome Aaron Wright back to Texas. His studies of drug metabolism and of the gut biome will be a major contribution in giving shape to our Health Initiative articulated in Illuminate,” Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., said. “Dr. Wright is accustomed to working with large teams of scientists and I can’t wait to see what he will do at Baylor.”
Chemistry approaches to answer biological questions
The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms found throughout the body in areas such as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and Wright’s research focuses on the processes that take place within the gut. Wright and his research team observe gut health outcomes by studying inputs within the gut – ranging from environmental factors to diet, along with the mechanisms and processes within the gut – to uncover clues about the causes that lead to health outcomes.
“What excites me is studying the interface of three things – the gut microbiome, humans and things that are going on in the environment around us,” Wright said. “How do these three things come together to have consequences on human health? If you see a car drive by, you see the exterior of the car. But what is making it go? That’s the question for me with humans and the gut microbiome: What is happening under the hood at both a high level and finer detail that we need to understand?”
Wright’s work has been highly funded by agencies like the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and more. His research has further led to the formation of Enzymetrics Bioscience, a Philadelphia-based company identifying areas within the microbiome that could be ripe for therapeutic-based treatment. Wright currently serves as a scientific advisor and board observer for the company.
Advancing interdisciplinary projects
“Dr. Wright is a great example of the importance of endowed funds to help attract impactful faculty to Baylor University,” said Lee Nordt, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Baylor. “Dr. Wright’s research in the microbiome is of particular importance as we continue to build out the health sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences and across Baylor University.”
The James R. Schofield Chair in Biomedical Studies was established through a gift from the estate of the late Dr. James Schofield, a Baylor alumnus and former visiting professor. Dr. Schofield, who passed away in 2007, chose to create a lasting legacy at Baylor, leaving a portion of his estate to the University. The Schofield Chair in Biomedical Studies is one of two endowed chairs created through his gift, and it will support innovative research and scholarly activity and teaching within the College of Arts & Sciences and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
The holder of the Schofield Chair is a Foster Academic Challenge Scholar, named after Foster Academic Challenge, established as part of a $100 million gift from Paul and Alejandra Foster of El Paso, Texas, aimed at supporting the University’s efforts to generate high-impact research and scholarship through matching support.
“When you look at James Schofield’s history, here at Baylor University and at the Baylor College of Medicine, he set a compelling foundation. I aspire to those same sorts of levels that he reached as he served students, faculty and the world,” Wright said. “I’m grateful that his family has invested in this position, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to do great things with this endowment.”
Working in a national laboratory, Wright comes from a background that is highly collaborative by nature and looks to build on that in his role as The Schofield Chair.
“An important component of holding an endowed chair is reaching across departments and seeking out opportunities to bring research together across disciplines,” Wright said. “The Baylor Sciences Building (where Wright’s lab and office reside) embodies that, bringing faculty from different areas together amongst each other, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
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The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments in the sciences, humanities, fine arts and social sciences, as well as 10 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit baylor.edu/artsandsciences.