Announcing the Jeffrey and Helo Zink Endowed Professional Development Term Chair in Chemistry

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The term chair, established by Professor Jeff Zink and his wife, Helo, will foster young faculty starting their careers at UCLA.

In her announcement about the gift, Department Chair Catherine Clarke said, “We are so thankful for Jeff’s vision to create this term chair. This will help us recruit and retain the best faculty for years to come. We are truly grateful for this wonderful gift and are thrilled to establish this chair. We plan to celebrate this gift once the chair holder has been identified.”

The gift is part of the Jung matching gift initiative in the department, which enables the department to match the gift one to one.

Zink was recently featured in the Winter 2016 UCLA College Report Magazine.

Published in the Winter 2016 UCLA College Report (by Margaret MacDonald):

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Jeffrey Zink in his lab at UCLA (Photo by Alyssa Bierce/UCLA College Communications)

Distinguished professor of chemistry Jeffrey Zink has pioneered the use of multifunctional nanoparticles and molecular machines designed to deliver drugs to the site of a tumor or infection — a scientific innovation poised to revolutionize the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases. With more than 400 published articles, he’s in the top 1 percent of the world’s most frequently cited authors in chemistry.  Zink joined the faculty of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry in 1970. With Helo, his wife of 48 years whom he met while she was studying bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin, he recently established the Jeffrey and Helo Zink Endowed Professional Development Term Chair in Chemistry.

When did you get hooked on chemistry?
As a kid I had a chemistry set and performed experiments in our basement that probably wouldn’t be allowed today! I almost chose a career in biology because I’m so interested in the natural world, especially birds and wildflowers. But I was drawn to the creativity and logic of chemistry, the problem-solving side.

Why did you come to UCLA?
I got an offer straight out of graduate school. When I flew out for interviews, I called my wife and told her, “This is the place. I’m going to take it.” She asked what kind of salary I’d been offered, and I told her I forgot to ask! She still teases me about that today.

What’s special about the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry?
A department isn’t about bricks and mortar or labs; it’s about the people. Our department’s stellar reputation is due to the faculty and their work, and this attracts high caliber graduate students. We also have a very collaborative spirit. At UCLA people talk to one another, and through UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute and Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, I’ve collaborated closely with many colleagues from different fields.

What’s so revolutionary about your work?
With standard chemotherapy, you have to inject a large concentration of the drug into the veins to have an effect on the tumor, causing myriad side effects. Instead, we’re putting the drug inside a nanoparticle, which carries it without leakage directly to the tumor. Then, in response to an external stimulus like light or magnetic field, the nanoparticle acts like a valve to release a large concentration of the drug, minimizing side effects and maximizing efficiency. For infectious disease, we’re designing these nanomachines to be carried by white blood cells to deliver antibiotics straight to the infection site.

What’s your goal?
What’s driving me is seeing these nanomachines through clinical trials and ultimately benefiting patients. I’d really like to see this fundamental scientific project fulfill its potential as a useful biomedical application that will help humanity.

Why did you establish the term chair?
I really wanted to give back. This term chair will be so helpful for young faculty starting their careers, which can be a really tough time. There are a few starter or career development grants, but they’re
hard to get. I thought it would be wonderful to provide funds to help successive generations of faculty at the start of their careers. The department can also use the chair as a retention tool if someone’s being lured away by another institution.

What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
I’m an amateur birder, and I’ve hiked up and down the whole south and central Sierra Nevada. My wife and I still hike a lot in the local mountains and deserts, and we also enjoy attending concerts of the LA Philharmonic. And I also swim at the Sunset Canyon pool.

Advice for students today?
The happiest people have jobs that don’t feel like work. That’s why we scientists work on Saturdays, because it’s fun!

Final thoughts?
I couldn’t have done all of this without my wonderful wife, Helo!