Dr. Kenneth Mossman credits the University of Tennessee with laying a strong foundation for his career in health physics and radiation biology, but his affinity for the school stretches beyond the professional—it is also where he met his future wife, Blaire.
And in 2010, after forty years of marriage and successful careers in the fields of science, publishing, and education, the Mossmans decided to pay tribute to the university and its multifaceted role in their lives by establishing the Kenneth and Blaire Mossman Professorship in Biomedicine, which recognizes collaborative research efforts between UT Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Blaire Mossman passed away in April 2011, but she was an active part of the planning process for the professorship, and her husband says the professorship exemplifies values that were important to both of them.
“We decided to establish this professorship because we were both committed to higher education and biomedical research, and we wanted to contribute to the continued collaboration between ORNL and UT Knoxville,” Mossman says.
The Mossmans met in 1968 at the university’s chapter of Hillel—an organization for Jewish students—and were married in 1970. Kenneth received an MS (’70) and a PhD (’73), both in radiation biology, from UT Knoxville’s Institute of Radiation Biology; Blaire earned a bachelor’s degree in French from the university in 1971.
Kenneth Mossman went on to hold faculty positions at Georgetown University and Arizona State University. He is currently professor of health physics in the School of Life Sciences at ASU, and he also works for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission as an administrative judge on the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. Blaire Mossman also forged a career path in the sciences, serving as the managing editor of four scientific journals devoted to research in computer applications in biology and medicine for thirty-one years.
The Mossman professorship awards a salary supplement to a faculty member who teaches at UT and collaborates with scientists at ORNL; that faculty member is also expected to provide exceptional students with the opportunity to conduct research at ORNL. The first recipient of the award is Professor Cynthia Peterson, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, who Mossman says exemplifies the goals of the professorship.
“Professor Peterson is a first-rate scientist with a long, distinguished career, who has worked with ORNL. I believe she will establish high standards for subsequent holders of the chair,” Mossman says.
In addition to serving as a commemoration of their shared student experience at UT, the Mossman professorship aims to encourage student and faculty collaboration between the university and ORNL. As a PhD student, Mossman worked with Dr. Arthur Kretchmar, a faculty member at UT who also had a laboratory at ORNL. It was the experience of working at the university and in a full-time laboratory that helped him land his first job at Georgetown, Mossman says.
“I went to ORNL every day to do my research, and it was a real opportunity to interact with staff scientists and other people in the Biology Division—first-rate scientists I could talk to and discuss my research with. I walked away from that experience having gained an outstanding education in science and research.”
Mossman hopes the professorship will serve as a magnet and attract talented faculty and students in the field of biomedicine, an area that is vital to enhancing UT’s prestige and funding.
“I am a staunch supporter of biomedical research. I think it’s an important area of research that will elevate UT to the upper echelons,” Mossman says. “I have served on government advisory committees, and it’s clear to me the people who get funding to do biomedical research are the ones at universities with a strong commitment to that area. UT has to be able to establish and invest in the research infrastructure that’s necessary to attract the very best people. ORNL is important because it’s a facility that has the potential to attract the best people.”
Mossman says that while he hopes to set up other awards and professorships in the future, this gift is special to him because he planned it with his wife.
“I’m just very grateful that Blaire was able to be part of the planning for the endowed professorship, and that it was started before she passed away,” he says. “She went to her final resting place knowing that all of the work we had done came to fruition, and she was able to take joy in that, even if only for a few months.”