DNA is Shana Kelley's favourite molecule. A lot of her teaching is related to the human hereditary material. The University of Toronto chemistry professor keeps DNA models on her desk to show to students who drop by her office. It's the story of the orchid on her desk, though, that reveals how genetics have shaped the professor.
An innovative researcher, Dr. Kelley was appointed director of biomolecular sciences just two years after joining the university. She invented the first electronic chip able to sense disease markers at the molecular level and she continues to develop biological and medical technology, overseeing a team of 20 researchers at U of T.
Dr. Kelley got her PhD from the California Institute of Technology and did a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Scripps Research Institute. She co-founded GeneOhm Sciences, a diagnostics company that exploited nanotechnology to make products for the prevention of hospital-acquired infections, producing tools that are marketed worldwide.
Yet Dr. Kelley still loves to teach because it helps her to be a better researcher. "Any time I teach a new course I think I learn more than the students learn," she said. "I get new ideas about things I want to research or I learn more about a part of a field that maybe I wasn't that familiar with and then I feel like I can use its tools."
And, she adds: "Teaching is just an important thing to do in and of itself."
Which brings us back to the orchid. Her maternal grandmother was a teacher who loved orchids. She passed away last summer and Dr. Kelley has kept an orchid on her desk ever since. A pattern of hereditary influences emerges as Dr. Kelley describes the paternal grandmother who earned a chemistry degree in the 1930s. And then there are her parents. Her father is a civil engineer and her mother runs a philanthropic organization supporting early childhood education and hunger programs. Dr. Kelley credits her dad for her rigorous, entrepreneurial side and her mom with the desire to give back and create community.
Dr. Kelley and her engineering professor husband Ted Sargent are expecting their second child this summer.