UA Parkinson’s Researcher Named Top Professor in Alabama

Dr. Guy Caldwell
Dr. Guy Caldwell

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Dr. Guy Caldwell, associate professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama, was named the state’s 2005 Professor of the Year today by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, known as CASE.

Caldwell, who was selected for outstanding teaching from among nearly 400 top professors in the United States, is being honored today in ceremonies in Washington, D.C., followed by a congressional reception tonight in the Library of Congress.

“He sets the standard for undergraduate teaching and mentoring at The University of Alabama, both inside and outside the classroom,” said UA President Robert E. Witt in a letter supporting Caldwell’s selection. “Guy Caldwell exemplifies the challenging, caring and inspiring academic life we seek to create for students.”

A place nicknamed “The Worm Shack” might seem an unlikely venue to find Alabama’s 2005 Professor of the Year, but that’s where you can often locate Caldwell. So dubbed by students in reference to the tens of thousands of microscopic worms which call Caldwell’s research laboratory home, “The Worm Shack” has drawn funding from some of the world’s most recognizable research organizations, including the March of Dimes and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

But research is only half the professorial equation, and it’s the other half, teaching, from whence Caldwell says he gets his greatest joy.

Since coming to UA in 1999, Caldwell has taught multiple biology courses, three of which he designed. One of those designed courses, Integrated Genomics, was first made possible through a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to UA and is now supported through a $600,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award Caldwell won.

It is a “discovery-based” course in which students conduct true experiments, ones with unknown outcomes. Students learn and use modern molecular biology and genetics methods, including using DNA sequence information in gene discovery and in gaining a better understanding of gene function. Caldwell has co-authored a textbook on this course that is being published by Wiley.

A second course, The Language of Research, co-designed by Dr. Kim Caldwell, assistant professor of biological sciences at UA and Guy Caldwell’s wife, pairs students with faculty mentors prior to the students’ beginning laboratory research. Students, including those from UA and Stillman College, receive instruction in areas such as scientific lingo, research etiquette and how to analyze scientific literature.

Scientific discoveries made in the Caldwell Laboratory have drawn international attention. Earlier this year, the lab’s researchers demonstrated that a specific protein protects against the loss of the brain neurons whose demise leads to Parkinson’s disease.
The findings, obtained from research on the worm model system, C. elegans, were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

In an earlier breakthrough, researchers in the Caldwell Lab demonstrated how the worm could serve as a powerful model for epilepsy research, after discovering ways to mimic epileptic seizure in the tiny roundworm. Students played key roles in both discoveries. Caldwell’s concept for a comprehensive database on the genetics of epilepsy was turned into reality by an inspired undergraduate. This novel resource, termed CarpeDB, was highlighted in a 2005 issue of Science magazine.

“I am amazed by the sophisticated experiments conducted by his undergraduate team; they are as good as or better than what one encounters in some of the leading graduate programs around the world,” said Dr. John W. Holaday, a biotechnology entrepreneur and an adjunct professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Holaday, a UA alumnus, said Caldwell strives to teach students fundamentals while also engaging them in the discovery process. “His students are not merely trained, they have been inspired to achieve — at the highest levels of science.”

Involving students in research ensures a better understanding from where the lines in their classroom text come, said Caldwell. For some, the concept goes even further. “Unequivocally, the greatest joy I have had as a professor comes from working with undergraduates that have indeed changed those lines in textbooks through their research efforts,” said Caldwell. Students share in that joy.

“With Guy Caldwell, learning is just plain fun,” wrote Dr. Robert F. Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in which Caldwell teaches. For four years in a row (2002-2005), a UA student Caldwell mentored has been named to the USA Today All-USA Academic Team.

“Guy Caldwell does not merely teach, he inspires,” said Dr. Martha Powell, chair of UA’s department of biological sciences.

Such inspiration is evidenced by the bounty of national honors garnered by Caldwell-trained students in only his first five years as a professor.

These honors include two Goldwater scholarships, one Truman scholarship, the Benjamin Cummings Biology Prize and a Merit Award from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. One of his student’s presentations at the American Society for Cell Biology international meeting – attended by 10,000 people – was selected as one of only 13 conference stories for inclusion in their Press Book, a document distributed as an educational tool to high schools and media outlets across the nation.

Caldwell’s research has also drawn financial support from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, National Parkinson Foundation, the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Caldwell calls it an “honor” to teach. “The experience has enabled me to discover who I am; not purely a researcher, not exclusively a teacher, but I am indeed a professor. I simply could not be more proud of that career choice and what it embodies.”

CASE established the Professors of the Year program in 1981 and the Carnegie Foundation became the co-sponsor a year later. TIAA-CREF, one of America’s leading financial services organizations and higher education’s premier retirement system, became the primary sponsor for the awards ceremony in 2000.

This year there are winners in 40 states, Guam, and the District of Columbia. CASE assembled two preliminary panels of judges to select finalists. The Carnegie Foundation then convened the third and final panel, which selected four national winners and state winners.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was founded in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie “to do all things necessary to encourage, uphold and dignify the profession of teaching.” The Foundation is the only advanced-study center for teachers in the world and the third-oldest foundation in the nation.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is the largest international association for educational institutions, with more than 3,200 colleges, universities, and independent elementary and secondary schools in nearly 50 countries. Representing these institutions are more than 38,000 professionals in the disciplines of alumni relations, communications and fund raising.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on Dr. Guy Caldwell and his research, please visit:


Chris Bryant, Assistant Director of Media Relations, 205/348-8323,