Benjamin Stark, professor of biology and associate dean for research in the College of Science, has announced his retirement from IIT after 33 years of service.
Stark earned a Ph.D. and an M.Ph. at Yale University and a B.S. from the University of Michigan. He discovered that the tRNA precursor processing enzyme RNase P contains an RNA component that is required for its catalytic activity, in the laboratory of his doctoral advisor at Yale, Sidney Altman, who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research on the catalytic properties of RNA. Stark, and others, described how genetic engineering of bacteria with Vitreoscilla hemoglobin (VHb) can enhance production of useful bioproducts as well as degradation of toxic chemicals, and has also investigated many aspects of the protein’s structure and function. One aspect of the work may lead to enhanced production of ethanol from biomass. He helped create the Dale Webster Lecture, honoring the accomplishments of the lecture’s namesake, who worked with him on this research.
Throughout his career, Stark has been the recipient of many awards, several for his excellence in teaching. He won the Teaching Excellence award, and he was chosen as a “Person of the Millennium” by IIT students in the IIT Millennium Project. As a testament to his award-winning teaching, many of Stark’s students have gone on to do great things after working in his lab. They have worked at Kraft, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Stanford, to name a few, and have had titles ranging from CEO, to crystallographer, to program director for pregnancy and perinatology. In addition to working with college students, Stark has also done science demonstrations for grade school students in Oak Park, Ill. for more than 20 years. He was recently elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for his many accomplishments in teaching and research.