VCU Pharmacology and Toxicology Professor Named Jefferson Science Fellow

Robert L. Balster, Ph.D., director of the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies and a Butler professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Virginia Commonwealth University, is one of 13 tenured, research-active scientists and engineers selected nationwide as a 2011-2012 Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Jefferson Science Fellows advise and educate policy officials, including the Secretary of State, about complex, scientific issues and their potential impact on U.S. foreign policy and international relations. Following a one-year term, Balster will return to VCU, but remain available to the U.S. government as an expert consultant for short-term projects for a period of five years.

“On an international level, this honor speaks to the caliber of expertise of our faculty at VCU. Dr. Balster will have the opportunity to share his extensive knowledge and possibly impact and make change to global health policy,” said Francis Macrina, Ph.D., VCU’s vice president for research.

Candidates are selected for their scientific achievements, articulation and communication skills, ability to accurately describe scientific topics for non-expert audiences and interest in issues at the intersection of science diplomacy and foreign policy.

Balster has been on the faculty at VCU since 1973, teaching and conducting research in the fields of pharmacology, psychology and substance abuse. For more than 10 years, he has been the founding director of a university-wide Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies. The institute now has more than 45 faculty members who collectively generate about $25 million a year in research grant support.

“In recent years my career has been moving in the direction of international training and research but I have had less experience in the area of global health policy,” said Balster.

“The Jefferson Science Fellowship offers me an opportunity to become more involved in policy and to apply what I have learned as a scientist to real-world problems. I am proud to be a part of VCU’s rapidly growing international visibility.”

In 2000, Balster received the first annual Mentorship Award of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence for his lifetime achievements in teaching and training young drug abuse scientists in his laboratories.

He has published more than 260 papers in scientific journals, edited two books and written more than 35 book chapters. He also has experience in the area of drug abuse policy and has testified before Congress and the Virginia General Assembly.

Other awards include the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) Nathan B. Eddy Award in 2009; the Brady-Schuster Award for the Division of Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse of the American Psychological Association in 2007; the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science in 2006; the Excellence in Mentorship Award from the NIDA International Program in 2006 and the VCU faculty Award of Excellence in 1999.
Balster received his Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in biopsychology from the University of Houston. He then completed postdoctoral training in psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

Since 2004, when the Jefferson Science Fellowship program began, 53 tenured academic scientists and engineers from U.S. institutions of higher learning, including Harvard, Cornell, Michigan, Colorado and Dartmouth, have participated in the Jefferson Science Fellowship program.

In addition to Balster, past Jefferson Science Fellows from VCU include Puru Jena, Ph.D., distinguished professor of physics, who was named a fellow in 2007, and Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry, who was named a fellow in 2010. 

The Jefferson Science Fellowship program is administered by the National Academies and supported through a partnership between the U.S. academic community, professional scientific societies and the U.S. Department of State. All Jefferson Science Fellowships are contingent upon awardees obtaining an official U.S. government security clearance.

Robert L. Balster, Ph.D.
Robert L. Balster, Ph.D.