On the cusp of his retirement, A. Javier López returned to his roots. During his 30 years at Carnegie Mellon University, López wore many hats in his lab — geneticist, biochemist, bioinformaticist — and taught a range of courses, including genetics and modern biology. But, just as he was set to retire, Carnegie Mellon launched a new program in environmental science and sustainability studies, and the Department of Biological Sciences planned to offer an ecology course. It turns out that López was just the man to help develop and teach it.
“When I was an undergraduate, I majored in biochemistry and minored in ecology. And I worked in tropical ecology during the summers with the U.S. Forest Service in the tropical forest in the Caribbean,” said Lopez, associate professor of biological sciences.
López taught the new ecology course in 2020 and 2021, and the course just added a new component — a field laboratory course in Costa Rica focused on tropical forest research. The first group of students spent eight weeks in Costa Rica last summer. López plans to join the students there in the future.
Even retirement can’t dim López’s dedication to undergraduate education.
“My greatest experience at Carnegie Mellon has been the interaction with my students — graduate students, research undergraduates and the students in the courses I taught.”
Over the years, López designed new courses and modified the curriculum in directions that he thought were important, especially with an emphasis on quantitative methods in biology. He was one of the co-instructors for the Phage Genomics Research course, a nationwide genomics course supported by Howard Hughes Medical Institute in which first-year students conducted authentic research.
Working with students in the lab, whether first-year students or graduate students, was one of López’s greatest joys.
“The students in my lab were fantastic,” recalled López, who mentored 12 grad students and dozens of undergraduates during his career. “They were smart and creative and fun to interact with. The atmosphere in the lab was always collegial and collaborative.”