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DAA: Barb Ariel Kohn

Barb Ariel Kohn

Watertown, MA | Distinguished Ag Alumni: 1999

Barbara Jackson Kohn earned a bachelor’s of science (Cum Laude) in Biochemistry from Purdue University in 1979. She is currently Vice President of Vicam L.P., an agricultural biotechnical company providing test kits used to evaluate the safety of foodstuffs and agricultural commodities. Here are some of her thoughts on education, career, and life: On coming to Purdue: “While I was still in high school, I was invited to attend a National Science Foundation training program at Purdue. That summer, I fell in two puppy loves-one with another participant and one with science. My love for science has grown and endured.” On how Purdue influenced her career: “My experiences at Purdue inform my work, that’s why I’m in a biotech company, and why I’m effective. Purdue taught me a reverence for agriculture. It taught me how privileged we are to live in a region of the world that has some of the greatest agricultural richness and the importance of safeguarding the land. “Often, people I work with are interested in my educational background, and usually they are much more impressed with my Purdue degree than my Harvard degree.” On people who influenced her: “T.K. Hodges was the Purdue professor in charge of that summer science program for high schoolers. It was because of that program that I came to Purdue. In that program, I was privileged to work with Dr. Shue-lock Lam in the Department of Horticulture. And once I got to Purdue, two Biochemistry professors stand out in my memory, Klaus Herrmann and Karl Brandt. Dr. Herrmann offered me a job in his biochem lab, and it means as much to me as I think back on it as it did the day he offered me the position. That lab job gave me early experience and got me involved in science and research, which I am doing to this day.” On career rewards: “This career rewards me in several ways: it makes me feel that I’m able to make a difference, because all of us eat food and need safe food, and I’m making a significant impact on human health. I’m also rewarded by the fact that I can do this in concert with people I care about and other people who share the same view of its importance that I do.” On philosophy of life: “My philosophy of life is based on the Jewish concept Tikkun Olam, which says that one of the purposes people have in life is to help to bring the world into balance and make it better, and in that sense people become partners in creation and the flow of life. Each person has a unique gift to offer and mine comes in part through this work. After I invented the kit for Listeria, a person said to me, ‘You’ll never know how many lives you have saved.’ I experienced a lot of senseless violence in my childhood and this work is the antithesis of that.” On her hopes for the future: “On a personal level, I hope to continue to be in a position where I can contribute. One of the things I remember at Purdue was when I was a freshman the Dean of the Agriculture School said to us that many people had sacrificed to enable us to attain the education we were embarking on and we owed it to these people to use this education well. I liked that view and I want to continue to contribute because I had the privilege of education that allows me to serve well.” Her favorite Purdue memory: “I loved watching experiments unfold in labs. There’s an art to developing a test kit or diagnostic device. It’s exciting to watch something go from an idea on paper to a product. It’s challenging and creative to work together as a team to get to the goal.” Highlights/Kohn Education B.S., Biochemistry (Cum Laude), Purdue University, 1979 Ph.D., Biological Chemistry, Harvard University, 1984 MIT, Postdoctoral Fellow, 1984-1989 Career Vicam L.P., Watertown, Massachusetts Vice President (1997-present) Director of Research and Development and Chief Scientist (1994-1997) Director of Microbiology (1992-1994) Director of Pathogen Research (1990-1992) Boston Biomedical Research Institute Principal Investigator (1990-1992) Visiting Staff Scientist (1989-1990) Honors and Associations American Association for the Advancement of Science American Management Association Association of Official Analytical Chemists International Family Dr. Kohn remembers being told that if she went to Purdue she’d marry an engineer. She met Phil Temples at Purdue and he has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. They were married at University Church in West Lafayette, and in May they will be celebrating their 21st wedding anniversary. Phil works at Harvard with the computer systems. Display quote/ Kohn “I’m proud to be a Purdue graduate. Often people I work with are interested in my educational background, and usually they are much more impressed with my Purdue degree than my Harvard degree.”