Cynthia Burrows earned her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1975 and her Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1982. She arrived at the University of Utah in 1995 following appointments at SUNY Stony Brook and after working with Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Lehn at the Université Louis Pasteur. She has held the Thatcher Presidential Endowed Chair of Biological Chemistry at the U since 2013 and is a member of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
She studies how DNA and RNA molecules are altered by oxidation, and how alterations can lead to physiological consequences such as cancer. She also studies the repair mechanisms for such alterations, which occur thousands of times in every cell every day. Recently, in collaboration with Henry White, she and her colleagues developed a system for feeding DNA through a nanopore to detect damage. Her work suggests that DNA alteration via oxidation may be related to epigenetics, or alterations of gene expression, that may have shaped the course of life on Earth.
In 2018, Burrows received the Willard Gibbs Medal and the James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry. She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. She received a Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 2016.
She has won the Robert W. Parry Teaching Award, the Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award, the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Linda K. Amos Award for Distinguished Service to Women. She is also a founding leader of the University of Utah Curie Club for Women, a society devoted to advancing women scientists and building a supportive community for women in STEM fields at the U.
As chair of the Department of Chemistry, Burrows has led the development of the new Thatcher Building as a state-of-the-art biological chemistry research facility. She has engaged faculty in assessing the department’s current programs and setting a vision for future directions.
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