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UMaine Institute of Medicine hosts first annual Distinguished Science Lecture featuring UMaine alum

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, the University of Maine Institute of Medicine hosted the first annual Distinguished Science Lecture of the school year. The lecture was held at the Buchanan Alumni House and featured D. Allan Butterfield, Ph.D., the associate vice president for Research for Centers and Institutes and for RPAs University of Kentucky and UMaine alum.

Butterfield was born in Maine and graduated from UMaine in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry. After graduating from UMaine, Butterfield spent three years on a missionary trip in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he taught high school students before going on to Duke University to earn his Ph.D. in physical chemistry (p-chem).

Butterfield’s presentation highlighted his research on lipid peroxidation and its impact on Alzheimer’s disease. Lipid peroxidation is a chain reaction of oxidative degradation of lipids that ultimately results in cell damage. Butterfield argues that lipid peroxidation is a key component of understanding Alzheimer’s disease.

“The overall paradigm of our lab is that brain function can be understood by invoking chemicals,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield has published nearly 700 scientific papers on his research on Alzheimer’s disease. He and his research team, which is made up of many graduate students and 180 undergraduate students, are using chemistry to understand how the brain works. Butterfield has made some major findings through his research, and he attributes his success to the education that he received from UMaine.

“Trust me, you would not have heard from me today had I not come from the University of Maine,” Butterfield said. “I got my Ph.D. in two and a half years because I was so darn well trained here.”

Joan Ferrini-Mundy, the president, was also present for Tuesday’s lecture and spoke highly of Butterfield and his achievements.

“I’m really glad to be able to be here today,” Ferrini-Mundy said.

Ferrini-Mundy noted that Butterfield has received many honors, including the Presidential Award for excellence in science, mathematics and engineering mentoring. He received this award from former United States President Bill Clinton in 1998 at the White House.

“I mentored many women, persons of color and persons from economically disadvantaged Appalachia,” Butterfield said.

He highlighted that it was an honor to mentor three groups that are highly underrepresented in the discipline of chemistry. Butterfield described this as one of the high points of his professional career.

He dedicated this lecture to Robert Dunlap. Dunlap was a professor of physical chemistry at UMaine from 1949 to 1991.

“He taught me everything I know about p-chem,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield described Dunlap as an inspirational instructor and undergraduate research mentor and wonderful friend.

“There is no way in the world I could have the career I have without the education from this institution and this teacher,” Butterfield said.

Dunlap suffered from Alzheimer’s until his death and Butterfield highlighted the irony that Alzheimer’s is now the subject of his research. Dunlap died on Sept. 18, 2019, at the age of 97.

UMaine is also where Butterfield met his wife. They have been together for 54 years.

For all of these reasons, UMaine holds a special place in Butterfield’s heart, and he was honored to get the chance to speak at his alma mater.

A recording of the seminar is available online through the UMaine Institute of Medicine page, which also highlights all the upcoming seminars for this semester.

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