native is only the fifth person in the history of Johns Hopkins, to hold that position. “Jerry Hart is a terrific example of the kind of career success that can result from graduate studies in the Kansas State University Division of Biology,” Dr. Brian Spooner, University Distinguished Professor and current Director of the Division of Biology at Kansas State, said.
As many successful people do, Hart received a great deal of support throughout the years. Starting with his parents, Hart laughs about the type of encouragement his mother gave him as a child. “She convinced my father to install a gas line for a Bunsen burner into my bedroom for my chemistry set. I would have never done that for my kids,” Hart said with a chuckle. In addition to his parents, Hart named a few other individuals that encouraged his scientific interests, one of them being K-State Professor, Dr. Gary Conrad. “I have the highest respect for Gary Conrad. He is enthusiastic and supportive, A pure scientist,” Hart said.
The two first came to know each other when Hart started working as a research technician in Conrad’s lab in 1972. “Jerry was enthusiastically interested in everything we were doing in the lab,” Conrad said. “We developed a synergistic relationship and fed off one another’s excitement,” he added. Admiring Hart’s work ethic and problem solving skills, Conrad encouraged Hart to apply to graduate school. Hart took the advice and was accepted to Kansas State University Graduate School in the fall of 1972 with Conrad as his PhD mentor. After graduation Hart took a postdoctoral position at Johns Hopkins University, where he was later invited to stay on as an assistant professor.
The lessons learned while at KSU have remained with Hart to this day. “Life is too short not to focus on important problems,” Hart said. Conrad taught Hart to be problem oriented not technique oriented, basically saying that there is more than one way to look at a problem and if you use the same technique you may miss something. By following this advice and using a less common technique, Hart made a unique observation.
Within a few years after joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins, Hart observed a type of carbohydrate, called O-GlcNAc, which is attached to proteins inside cells. Prior to this, it was believed that these kinds of carbohydrates only existed in abundance attached to proteins outside cells. The quantity and location of O-GlcNAc may affect the cell’s life and function. Hart’s observation led to his further research of key roles that O-GlcNAC’s location and quantity may play in the development of a few major diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes. “I have two quotes in my office,” Hart said. “One of them is ‘Chance favors the prepared mind,’ from Louis Pasteur. This is what happened to me with O-GlcNAc.”
While in town for the Alumni Fellows banquet, Hart took the chance to pass on the type of support, encouragement and advice that he received throughout the years, to the next generation of successful K-State students by giving a guest lecture to Conrad’s Developmental Biology class. Hart gave a brief presentation of his research then enlightened graduate and medical school-bound students with tips and tricks for applying to medical and graduate school.
“Being able to write is really important. It is the best thing you can do for yourself,” Hart said. “When I was on the [Johns Hopkins] interviewing committee I also always looked for someone that demonstrated that they have been interested in science their whole life, because if you don’t love it, you won’t make it,” Hart added.
Mathew Martinez, a premed senior in Biology, was just one of the many students that eagerly surrounded Hart after class with questions regarding the application and interview process at Johns Hopkins Medical School. “His talk was fascinating, Martinez, said. “As a doctor you have to be a lifetime learner and learning about Hart’s recent research with real diseases is fascinating.” Martinez has already applied to Johns Hopkins Medical School and is waiting for a reply.
Among the many activities during the three day event, Hart and his family were invited to attend a banquet on Thursday, February 28, 2008 to honor the ten Alumni Fellows. It was there, in front of family and friends that Hart was presented with K-State Alumni Fellow Award. “This is a huge honor,” Hart said.