The Department of Plant Biology has a long and distinguished history characterized by faculty and graduates who have made major contributions to science, higher education, and public policy over the past 140 years. Notable faculty members and graduates include, among others, David Starr Jordan (1872, received an MS instead of a BSc because of the excellence and depth of his academic accomplishments as an undergraduate - first president and architect of Stanford University), Barbara McClintock (BSc, 1923, Ph.D. 1927 - Nobel Laureate), George Beadle (Ph.D. 1930 - Nobel Laureate and President of the University of Chicago), and L. H. Bailey who made seminal contributions to the foundations of the environmental movement in biology, established a model interface between basic and applied sciences that would characterize Cornell for generations and lead to breakthroughs in genetics on a monumental scale during the twentieth century. (for more details see Landmarks and Milestones in American Plant Biology: the Cornell Connection; and Botany at Cornell).
Today, the Department of Plant Biology at Cornell is home to basic plant biology on campus. Established as a newly configured department in 2000 in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences it also has faculty and staff from the College of Arts and Sciences reflecting its bi-collegiate history. Consistent with the diverse historical foundations of the department and its leading role in establishing the state of the art in plant biology and genetics is its present breadth in areas that encompass genomics, informatics, plant molecular genetics, proteomics, biochemistry and biophysics, evolution, systematics, paleobotany, physiology, genomics, development, medicinal botany etc.
Thirty one faculty members, including four members of the National Academy of Sciences, represent the areas noted above while faculty members with related interests are found in numerous other departments from Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to Molecular Biology and Genetics. Adding to the intellectual breath of the community are several Cornell departments dedicated to immediately relevant aspects of plant research including the Departments of Plant Breeding, Plant Pathology, Crop and Soil Sciences, and Horticulture as well as the Cornell affiliate Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and the USDA Plant Soil and Nutrition Laboratory. Many BTI and USDA scientists are adjunct members of the department which also has close collaborative training and research programs with the Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan and with the New York Botanical Garden. This diversity and the collaborative culture at Cornell allow for unusual synergies in designing and executing research programs and also in the education of individual graduate students. Graduate students often have interdepartmental or even intercollegiate thesis committees. There are 44 graduate students in the Department of Plant Biology with most being admitted through the Graduate Field of Plant Biology.
Faculty members of Plant Biology are located in a number of separate buildings. These include Emerson Hall, recently completely reconstructed for plant genomics/proteomics and also home to the New York State Funded Advanced Research Center in Plant Proteomics and Metabolomics, the Plant Science Building (that housed some of the most famous plant biologists of the Twentieth Century), the Boyce Thompson Institute with its imposing physical plant and extensive support facilities, the spectacular new L. H. Bailey Hortorium that includes extensive laboratories and one of the country's top ten herbaria. The Department has joint faculty in the Biotechnology Building and will also have supporting resources in the new Joan and Sanford I. Weill Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology housed in a stunning new building designed by noted architect Richard Meier and now in the late stages of construction (and connected to Plant Science by a tunnel to allow free movement of plants [and ideas] over five buildings even during the winter months). In spite of the distribution of faculty among different facilities, they are collectively within easy walking distance along Tower Road, a major campus artery.
Graduate Student Career Trajectories
The combination of outstanding faculty, wonderful resources and a culture of collaboration set in a diverse and world class University makes Cornell Plant Biology a unique venue for research in the Plant Sciences. This combination of assets also makes Cornell a uniquely strong environment for graduate training in the plant sciences. Historically, Cornell has had almost unparalleled influence on research in plant biology through its faculty and graduates. Cornell graduates continue to be influential in the field of plant sciences and recent graduates have been highly successful in obtaining academic or equivalent professional positions. They can be found from coast to coast in the United States occupying positions at leading Universities (e.g. Duke, Wisconsin, Washington University, UC Davis) botanical gardens (e.g. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the New York Botanical Garden), in public policy (e.g. the Union of Concerned Scientists), and in industry (e.g. Monsanto).
Today's World brings an unprecedented series of challenges. We are faced with global climate change and its implications for agriculture and the extinction of wild species, energy shortages, and new epidemic diseases. Research in the basic plant sciences is potentially of great significance in addressing aspects of each of these phenomena. The Department of Plant Biology at Cornell University is unusually positioned to contribute solutions to these problems through its broad based and innovative studies of basic plant biology.