Director of MU Life Sciences Center stepping downMU Life Sciences head leaving to pursue research

Friday, September 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:40 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

After leading the MU Life Sciences Center through its inaugural year, R. Michael Roberts, the first director of the center, is stepping down.

The professor of animal sciences will take a research leave that will start Oct. 1 and end in January, and then he will return to MU as a research professor.

Karla Carter, executive staff assistant to Roberts, said Roberts will focus on several research projects regarding stem cells, maternal recognition of pregnancy and the effect of maternal diet on an embryo’s sex. She said Roberts had put his own research on hold to pursue his responsibilities as director of life sciences.

“His main role was to bring the research themes to life through assisting in recruiting several top-notch international scientists,” Carter said.

Carter said Roberts decided to resign because he had achieved his goal of establishing research teams at the $60 million Life Sciences Center, which opened in July 2004.

The center houses 30 investigators whose research is divided into six themes, including cellular development, plant biology, inflammation and environmental stress, and gene therapy.

Roberts, who announced his decision Tuesday, left Thursday morning for Bombay, India, to speak at the International Symposium on Stem Cells, Carter said. He is expected to return to MU on Sept. 23; his last day as director of life sciences is Sept. 30.

“The way I look at it, the campus owes him a debt of gratitude for taking 20 months out of his research,” said Mike Chippendale, recently retired senior associate director of the Life Sciences Center. “He’s devoted all of his energies to this.”

Chippendale said he expects an interim director to be named by the time Roberts’ resignation takes effect.

“We’re trying to define the requirements of the position,” he said. “You have to take into consideration the science aspects, the collaborative aspects, building on the foundation we already have, communication aspects and partnership aspects.

”It’s a tough job, but it’s also a great job,” Chippendale said, noting that the director “can be quite influential as far as life sciences research, not just on the campus but even in the state and beyond.”

When he started as director of the Life Sciences Center, Roberts was paid a salary of $225,000, MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said. Roberts’ current salary of $237,532 will not change while he is on leave or after his return to his regular academic duties as a research professor, Banken said.

Roberts started his career as a professor in MU’s animal sciences department in 1985. He was appointed director of the Life Sciences Center in January 2004 and spent the following year and a half establishing the center and hiring its staff.

Roberts’ research is supported by three grants from the National Institutes of Health, the first of which he was awarded in 1973. He has also received two dozen awards for his research, instruction and contributions to science. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996 and is one of only two members of the academy at MU. Carter said Roberts has served on more than 40 committees at MU and publishes an average of 22 journal articles a year.

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