Donald B. McCormick, Ph.D
Religion - Science
Brief History of the Department of Biochemistry
at Emory University
and My(1) Role in Its Development

As far as I am aware, Prof. Francis Binkley, who was in the Dental School, provided some of the early teaching of biochemistry for students in health professions at Emory.(2)

With the arrival of Professors Alfred and Jane Wilhelmi from Yale, a focus on biochemical endocrinology was secured. During the period that Alfred was Chairman, faculty included those interested in peptidic hormones, i.e. Alfred and Mary Wilhelmi, Francis Binkley, Leo Richert, and John Mills (a former student of Wilhelmi's). The hormone group secured the isolation of human growth hormone and supplied the NIH with this material. In addition some breadth in other areas included the acquisition of Raymond Shapira (amino acids and proteins), Donald Groth (nucleic acid bases), Joseph (Jack) Kinkade (myeloperoxidase), Robert Shuster (molecular biology), and Alex Sophianopolis (physical biochemistry, ultracentrifugation). All had been promoted to tenure and an additional person was considered but was held for a final decision that would involve a new chairperson.

While I was serving as the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, I was asked to consider (among offers from several universities), the Chairmanship at Emory University. I could see Emory had possibilities for someone who wanted a challenge at a place where environment and means could allow real improvement in academic quality and the search for new knowledge. It was within the penumbra of growth of the "New South" in Atlanta. Emory already had a good undergraduate school reputation for the geographic area, and the administration expressed intent to develop enlarged and improved graduate programs that would   include the medical and dental schools, both of which were well regarded in their education of professional practitioners. Essential to such new growth was that Mr. Woodruff of Coca-Cola had given to Emory a single donation to their endowment greater than that received by any other university up to that time.

I decided to accept the offer as it represented a challenge to improve the Department of Biochemistry, which needed growth and correction of some less-productive faculty. Also there were prospects to develop better interactions, especially in curricula offerings among the science departments; the latter could be along lines that I had helped develop at Cornell where we put together the first Division of Biological Sciences in any major university in the country.

I arrived in Stone Mountain and Emory with one postdoctoral fellow from Ithaca and Cornell in August of 1979. I served as the Fuller E. Callaway Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry from 1979-94 and concurrently in 1985-89 as the Executive Associate Dean for Science in the School of Medicine. During my service as Chairman in the Department, I shared in multiple teaching and grant-supported research and helped recruit the following tenure-track faculty: Barbara Baumstark(3) (molecular biology) from MIT/Emory, Dale Edmondson(4) (physical biochemist) from the VA of the University of California at San Francisco, Keith Wilkinson(5) (ubiquitin systems) from Michigan, David Lambeth(6) (enzymologist) from Duke, Alfred Merrill, Jr.(7) (lipid biochemistry) from Cornell/Duke, Dean Jones(8) (redox biochemistry) from Cornell, Douglas Wallace(9) (mitochondrial DNA) from Stanford, Steve Warren(10) (molecular genetics) from Michigan State, Paul Doetsch(11) (DNA repair) from Temple, Daniel Reines (transcription factors) from Einstein, and Lynn Coluccio (calmodulin, cell biology) from Cornell. A number of joint appointments were made to share the teaching load and enhance mutual recognition. As the Executive Associate Dean for Science, I helped unify the graduate programs into a new Division of Biological Sciences, initiate a new Program in Nutrition and Health Sciences, and coordinate some concerted actions of the Basic Science Departments in the School of Medicine. After stepping back from administrative duties, I continued on the faculty until 1997 during which time, with David Lambeth as Chairman, we added several additional faculty(12) who broadened our scope to include x-ray crystallography, more of cell and molecular biology, and molecular genetics.

In both teaching and research, the Department of Biochemistry has gained in stature to deserve national recognition. Under the current Chairman, Richard Cummings, it has already begun further advancement and should be considered one of the more successful gains made by Emory. Clearly some additional faculty to replace losses due to moving and retirements, hopefully further seeded by an endowed professorship, can put the Department in a select top group that would significantly augment Emory's reputation.

(1)For details on my professional life, see my web site (
(2)Check with Jack Kinkade ( on details both before and after my period of service. He also served as my co-chairman for much of my time.
(3)Baumstark left before tenure consideration to become Chairperson of Biology at Georgia State University where her husband had secured a position as Professor of Chemistry.
(4)Edmondson became a joint appointment to the Department of Chemistry at Emory where he has helped in their teaching and research programs.
(5)Wilkinson is now serving as the Director of the Division of Biological Sciences.
(6)Lambeth (, now appointed as a Professor in Experimental Pathology, can supply details on events that occurred during his period of service as Chairman.
(7)Merrill left to become the Smithgal Institute Director in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech University.
(8)Jones is now appointed in the Pulmonary Division of the Department of Medicine at Emory.
(9)Wallace was elected to the NAS and left to become a Professor of Genetics at the University of California-Irvine.
(10)Warren is a Howard Hughes Investigator and IOM member and is Timmie Professor and Chairman of  the Department of Human Genetics at Emory.
(11)Doetsch is joint appointed as Co-director in the Cancer Center at Emory.
(12)The list includes Chen, Corbett, Kahn, Matsumura, and Pallas as on-going tenure-track faculty.