Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Lynda Jordan: Leading Cutting-Edge Research at North Carolina A&T

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Lynda Jordan: Leading Cutting-Edge Research at North Carolina A&T

Article excerpt

Lynda Jordan: Leading Cutting-edge Research at North Carolina A&T.

by B. Denise Hawkins

GREENSBORO, NC -- After a late start to an early morning, biochemist Lynda Jordan has little time to settle down in her cluttered office at North Carolina A&T University before she gets an unexpected workout from a zealous photographer.

Jordan, hit hard with the flu a week earlier, does not feel well. But she has research to conduct, eager students to counsel, a lab session to teach, a report to write and deliver for the university's faculty senate and an out-of-town guest to whom she must tell her life story, all before 2 p.m.

So Jordan puts her health aside, slips on her green suede pumps and marches across the hall to her lab. Her booming voice, intermingled with care, commands, and the language of the 'hood reaches the door and the ears of her students before she does.

It's showtime.

Inside the lab, the young, gifted and Black scientists are waiting for their leader. Jordan's questions and directives, about the previous day's experiments and today's agenda, shoot like orchestrated cannons across the room to the handful of honors graduate and undergraduate students she affectionately calls her "children."

But this is not a typical lab day for Jordan or her students. Strategically placed among the spectrometers, Pyrex pipettes and petri dishes are photo umbrellas and glaring spotlights.

In the past few months the A&T graduate, mentor and researcher has whipped her goggles off and on for the camera and plunged herself and her family's lives into public view when she decided to participate in "Discovering Women," an upcoming PBS series on female scientists. The hour-long show, produced by Boston's WGBH, is expected to air next spring.

A New Generation

The decision to appear in the series was a difficult one, Jordan recalled. When she was approached by producers, Jordan urged them, instead, to pick from a list she drafted of Black female science pioneers with interesting stories to tell -- among them one of her mentors, Vallie Guthrie, director of the Greensboro Area Math and Science Education Center and North Carolina A&T's first female chemistry professor.

But in the end, Jordan said yes to the show and to the opportunity to inspire a new generation of African-American scientists, especially young women. "I realized that this is really a blessing to be able to share at this level and help someone," she said.

When Jordan was a teen-ager, only one-tenth of 1 percent of all scientists were African-American women, a number that has risen only slightly today.

The internationally known biochemist is always eager to discuss the many people in her life who helped propel her out of one of Boston's toughest housing projects to Ph.D. studies in biological chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prestigious fellowship at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France.

"The sum total of my scientific preparation, scholarship and success can be attributed to those who nurtured me and gave me the foundation I needed right here at A&T," said Jordan.

Cracking the Enzyme Code

Drawing on her experiments on serum cholesterol as an undergraduate chemistry major in the lab at North Carolina A&T has led Jordan full circle.

For more than a decade, Jordan has been studying an enzyme called phospholipase A2 or PLA2, a compound found in every cell in the human body. PLA2 has been linked to asthma, diabetes, arthritis, pre-term labor and a host of other inflammatory and respiratory disorders.

While Jordan's findings may help chart new ground in the treatment of these disorders, cracking the code for the key enzyme continues to be a tough and elusive task.

"Isolating calcium-independent, high-molecular-weight phospholipase A2 from the human placenta was one of the greatest accomplishments we've made in our research. We were one of the first teams to do this," said Jordan. …

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