About the School

School of Biological Sciences Mission

The mission of the School of Biological Sciences is to conduct exceptional research at the leading edge of biological sciences and to provide high quality, innovative education for undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty, staff and students will strive to produce significant new knowledge and translate these discoveries into benefits for human and environmental health. These discoveries will be shared with the public and private sector so that this knowledge can benefit science education, government policy, and economic development in Georgia and throughout the world.

School of Biological Sciences History

1960-2004

The School of Biological Sciences is a combination of what was once the School of Biology and the School of Applied Physiology. The School of Biology was established in the 1959-60 academic year. The five founding faculty members were microbiologists and radiation biologists who were employed at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), a contract research organization associated with Georgia Tech. The original objective of the School of Biology was to relate the field of biology to other scientific fields.  This view that biology is an auxiliary discipline to other science fields set the tone for early years. From 1964 to 1972 the undergraduate enrollment rose from about 70 to 238 majors.  Faculty additions to accommodate the increased enrollment brought the faculty size to ten.  A Master of Science degree program was approved at the end of the 1960's. Over the next 10 years, faculty size varied from 13 to 16 and there was interest in establishing a Ph.D. degree, but this was initially not encouraged by the administration. A proposal for a Ph.D. program was submitted to the Board of Regents in Spring 1981.  A new Director, Thomas Tornabene, arrived in Fall 1981 and the Ph.D. program began in Fall 1982. New courses were introduced, and microbial biotechnology was emphasized in the undergraduate curriculum.  Publications advertised the biotechnology thrust of the school. The first Ph.D. degree in Biology was awarded in 1987. The graduate program increased from approximately 18 master’s students in 1982, to 22 masters and 23 Ph.D. students by 1990. In the summer of 1990, Roger Wartell, a faculty member in the School of Physics with a 1/3 joint appointment in Biology, was appointed Acting Chair. The undergraduate curriculum was revised in 1990 to provide students with three areas of emphasis: environmental biology, microbiology, and molecular biology.  These areas reflected the research and educational interests of the faculty.

From 1990 to 2004, the School of Biology continued to grow under the direction of Roger Wartell, who was appointed Chair in 1996.  New faculty members were hired in all areas, including three Endowed Chair Professors (Hay, Harvey, and Merrill). From 1990 to 2003, the number of undergraduate and graduate students continued to grow, reaching respectively, 332 and 53 by year 2003, with the majority of graduate students being in the Ph.D. program. The professional Master of Science program in Bioinformatics was established in 2002.

The School of Applied Physiology grew out of the Department of Physical Education in the College of Science and liberal Studies, the predecessor of the College of Sciences.  The origins of a research emphasis in the School of Applied Physiology can be traced back to 1990 when, during campus-wide academic reorganization, our unit, having been renamed the Department of Health & Performance Sciences, successfully lobbied to become an academic unit in the newly formed College of Sciences.  Under its founding chair, Dr. Robert Gregor, a number of faculty members with substantial research programs were recruited.  The expertise of these faculty members spans the integrative physiology of movement, from cellular studies of muscle regulation and plasticity through the biomechanics and neurophysiology of movement, to exercise physiology and autonomic regulation and biostatistics.  As a result of interest and encouragement from other campus units and the administration of the Institute, interest also turned toward the field of prosthetics and orthotics.  In 2002, the first Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics Program in the United States attracted its first class of students, and at the same time the School was renamed the School of Applied Physiology. 

2004-2009

In the fall of 2004, John McDonald was appointed Chair of the School of Biology. The School established the goal of becoming one of the top national biology programs within 10 years, by building around the theme of integrated systems biology.  A new endowed chair in integrated systems biology was recruited (Skolnick). A number of changes were initiated in both the undergraduate and graduate curricula to encourage students to broaden their training in biology and to integrate their biological interests with the fields of engineering and computer science. The number of undergraduate majors in the School of Biology has grown steadily, peaking at 450 in 2009. The total number graduate students has similarly increased to 110 in 2009.

Research activity in SoB has dramatically increased in recent years as exemplified by an increase in new extramural awards from $1.8 M in 2000 to $7.2 M in FY 2007. In 2003, there were 28 tenure-track faculty members and one research scientist in the School. As of 2009, there were 32 faculty members and 11 research scientists. The number of new SoB faculty publications in peer-reviewed journals went rose 64 (2.3 per faculty member) in 2003 to 175 (5.5 per faculty member) in 2007. 

To facilitate the integration of the biological sciences across the Georgia Tech campus, SoB faculty have taken the lead in establishing a number of inter-departmental research centers. The integrative spirit fostered by these Centers has given birth to a number of collaborative research programs.  In addition to these centers, SoB faculty have been instrumental in establishing core service facilities that are critical to the support and development of integrative systems biology on campus.

There was also much growth in the School of Applied Physiology during these years. In 2005, a PhD program in Applied Physiology was established, and in 2008 a pre-doctoral training grant was awarded for doctoral studies focused on research related to prosthetics and orthotics. 

2009-2016

In the summer of 2009, Terry Snell was appointed Interim Chair of the School of Biology. After two years, he was appointed Chair where he served until 2016. During this period the School acquired a fifth endowed chair (animal behavior and conservation) and the faculty grew to 40 tenure-track positions, 6 academic professionals, and 18 staff members. The School of Applied Physiology grew as well, to include 10 tenured or tenure-track faculty members, two faculty members who teach the MSPO program, three academic professionals and two lecturers. In the summer of 2016, the School of Biology and the School of Applied Physiology were combined into a new School of Biological Sciences. The School, Chaired by Todd Streelman, is now comprised of 50 tenure-track positions, 10 academic professionals, and 22 staff members.