McMahan Named Head of Texas A&M Biology

By: kbtxnews Email
By: kbtxnews Email

World-renowned neurobiologist Dr. U.J. McMahan has been appointed professor and head of the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, effective Dec. 1, 2008, announced H. Joseph Newton , dean of the College of Science .

McMahan comes to Texas A&M from Stanford University, where he was a professor of neurobiology and of structural biology with tenure in the School of Medicine. In his 31-year career at Stanford, McMahan served in a variety of leadership positions, including director of the Interdepartmental Neurosciences Ph.D. Program (1986-1991), chair of the Department of Neurobiology (1987-1992) and chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies (1989-1990).

Prior to joining the Stanford faculty in 1977, McMahan spent 10 years at Harvard Medical School as a principal instructor (1967-1972), an assistant professor (1972-1975) and an associate professor (1975-1977) in the Department of Neurobiology. He began his faculty career at Yale University School of Medicine, where he was an instructor in the Department of Anatomy for two years (1965-1967).

“We are very fortunate to have been able to attract a man of Professor McMahan’s stature, both as a scientist and as a leader of the Texas A&M Department of Biology,” Newton said. “In the short time he has been here, he has already established himself as a leader of the discipline and as a collaborator in the new Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building and with other life sciences research groups on campus.”

As head of biology, McMahan has administrative responsibility for the department, which includes curriculum, faculty and program development. He also will oversee its external relations as he works to attract additional financial support for both research and the training of advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

In addition to guidance for a research-intensive department with the fourth largest number of undergraduate majors on campus, McMahan and his research group will provide one of the cornerstones for Texas A&M’s new Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building and its related teaching and research efforts. His work focuses on three-dimensional reconstructions of tissue sections generated by electron microscope tomography to study the organization and behavior of macromolecules at the nervous system’s synapses. This information enables insights not possible via any other method into the molecular mechanisms involved in synaptic impulse transmission and the sequence of steps in synapse formation, with direct bearing on the problems associated with understanding the molecular basis of brain diseases and restoring brain function after trauma.

“For nearly a decade, I have watched admiringly as the Department of Biology at Texas A&M has formed one of the best all-around faculties in its discipline in the world,” McMahan said. “The department’s older members have long been highly respected for their research achievements, while the great promise offered by its younger members has begun to bear rich fruit. Along with its strong research contributions, the department’s faculty is intensely dedicated to teaching its undergraduate and graduate students not only the basic principles but also, in detail, the latest advances in the field, while the university has shown unusual support for the faculty in both their research and their teaching efforts.

“It is a great honor and a pleasure for me to be offered the opportunity to help in the further development of this extraordinary group of scientist educators.”

McMahan has published more than 60 research papers and in the past five years alone, received three major research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His research contributions have been recognized with several prestigious awards, including an NIH Career Development Award (1973-1977) and the NIH Jacob Javits Neurosciences Investigator Award (1984-1991 and 1991-1998). In addition, McMahan was a co-recipient of the 1998 Fondation IPSEN/Fondation de France’s Neuronal Plasticity Prize, which annually recognizes pioneering international achievement in the neurosciences.

He has served since 2003 as director of the International Brain Research Organization-Visiting Lecture Team Program (IBRO-VLTP), a community-oriented effort whose focus is economically underdeveloped nations. McMahan has organized and taught intensive basic neuroscience courses in more than 25 economically underdeveloped nations throughout the world, assisting dozens of students in these courses in obtaining entry into academic institutions in North America and Western Europe for further training.

McMahan received a bachelor of arts in biology from Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., in 1960 and a doctorate in anatomy from the University of Tennessee Medical Units in Memphis in 1964.

Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or or Dr. U.J. McMahan, (979) 845-2301 or

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