Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jennifer Hurley Named the Richard Baruch M.D. Career Development Chair

Posted September 25, 2018
Research focuses on the effects of circadian clocks on ecosystems and human health

Jennifer Hurleyassistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named the Richard Baruch M.D. Career Development Professor of Biological Sciences. Appointment to an endowed chair is one of the highest honors that can be given to a faculty member, and a development chair is designed to propel highly productive junior faculty to new levels of accomplishment.

Hurley, a member of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, studies the mechanism that underlies the proper timing of the circadian clock as well as the human health implications of a disrupted clock by studying how clocks in model organisms behave. Her research has led to collaborations with environmental science experts as part of the Jefferson Project at Lake George to explain how chemically induced circadian disruption can lead to food web alterations when plankton do not “know the time of day” and fail to rise and fall in the water column at appropriate intervals. She also works with Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications data science colleagues to investigate the broad impact of the clock on an organism. 

The generous financial support of Johanna and Thomas R. Baruch ’60, made possible the endowed chair, created in 2003 in honor of Thomas Baruch’s father, Dr. Richard Baruch. Johanna and Thomas R. Baruch have made significant philanthropic contributions to the research and educational mission of Rensselaer, including founding the Baruch ’60 Center for Solar Biochemical Research in 2008.  Thomas Baruch serves on the Rensselaer Board of Trustees. The Baruchs are also members of the Rensselaer Society of Patroons.

Disruption of circadian clocks is known to affect a variety of physical and mental functions, a commonly known example of which is “jet lag.” Chronic circadian disruption, such as the disruption faced by shift workers, is linked to a variety of maladies, including many serious diseases. Hurley’s research also indicates that in addition to “social” circadian disruptions, environmental contaminants may be able to disrupt the circadian clock. 

“Johanna and Tom Baruch believe strongly in recognizing promising young faculty members and enabling them to achieve their personal best,” said Curt Breneman, dean of the Rensselaer School of Science. “The work that Jen Hurley is doing is exciting and highly relevant to the protection of both human health and the preservation of environmental ecosystems.”  

Since arriving at Rensselaer three years ago, Hurley has already received more than $3.2 million in grants from multiple federal agencies to support her work. In that time, she has published three book chapters and 20 peer-reviewed journal articles. Her work on circadian clocks has been featured on National Public Radio and in national news reports.

Hurley’s research fulfills The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for higher education which recognizes that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration — working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions — to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges — from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer. 

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 86 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 18 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to