Here at the College of Sciences and Humanities, we love to highlight the new faculty members joining our team. Dr. Jordan Froese is a new Assistant Professor in the Chemistry department. The following interview discusses what brought him to Ball State, his research focus, and his passion for sports.
Can you describe your journey to Ball State?
I grew up in Southern Ontario, just a short drive from Niagara Falls. I have always been passionate about science, and I was lucky to be admitted to the University of Toronto as an undergraduate, where I specialized in evolutionary biology.
Being a teacher at heart, I completed my Bachelor of Education degree after my undergraduate studies. But instead of going out and facing the real world after this second graduation, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in biotechnology at Brock University in my hometown.
During my graduate career, I worked under Professor Tomas Hudlicky, and my research consisted of using enzymes as green-chemical catalysts to produce useful metabolites for applications in chemical synthesis. I then used those enzymatic metabolites to make some interesting natural products, including the recently identified natural product pleiogenone, which has demonstrated anti-cancer activity.
After successfully completing my Ph.D., I was hired as a postdoctoral scholar to work in the Vanderbilt Laboratory for Biosynthetic Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville TN, under the direction of Professor Brian Bachmann. My research at Vanderbilt consisted of 1) working to discover new natural products made by cave organisms, 2) engineering of enzymes through directed evolution and synthetic biology. During this time, we discovered some interesting new molecules (also with anti-cancer activity), and I learned a lot about how to re-engineer enzymes through directed evolution.
What is your research focus in Chemistry?
In my lab, which I have titled the Ball State Laboratory for Biocatalysis Research, our research focuses on the development of new enzymatic catalysts through synthetic biology and directed evolution. These fields are relatively new, but their potential is very exciting (as evidenced by the receipt of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry). Directed evolution and synthetic biology allow us to alter the amino acids residues of enzymes to give these enzymes new functions/reactivity. We are using this technology to develop new/altered enzymes that have useful new reactivity that can be applied by synthetic chemists for making valuable compounds.
We are guided in this research by a desire to make the chemical industry more environmentally sustainable. Enzymatic catalysts are entirely biodegradable and can be used in water, in contrast to traditional heavy metal catalysts that are used in petroleum-derived solvents. We hope to make an incremental contribution towards the goal of sustainability by providing environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional catalysts.
What are some of your goals for your first year here?
I am most excited to bring research in the burgeoning fields of synthetic biology and directed evolution to Ball State. These cutting-edge fields will provide exciting training opportunities for students, who will have the chance to gain a diverse set of skills required to work in a modern biochemical environment. I am excited to get other people excited about what we do!
In my first year, my goals are to establish the infrastructure required to pursue this research, both in terms of the materials and equipment required, but also in terms of building a motivated team of students who are interested in pursuing this research. It is crucial to first establish a knowledge base in this team of student-researchers so that later we can perpetuate this knowledge to a new class of students. For the most part, these goals have been accomplished.
What are some of your hobbies/non-academic interests?
I am a big sports fan! Hockey of course as I am Canadian (Buffalo Sabres fan), but football (Buffalo Bills) as well. One of the things I miss most about being back home in Canada is how easy it was there to play pick-up hockey regularly!
I have always been passionate about history, and I love to read about history (just finished Dan Carlin’s “The End is Always Near”) and listen to podcasts about history (“Hardcore History” is a must).
Other than that, I love to attend concerts (got my tickets for Shaky Knees festival in Atlanta this summer), and I enjoy my fish as I am what some call an “aquarium hobbyist.”
Interested in learning more about our fantastic chemistry faculty? Check out our blog post highlighting Professor Patricia Lang’s Outstanding Faculty award for diversity advocacy. Click here to see all of our posts introducing new CSH faculty.