Meet the Researcher: Herbert Weissbach

On the second floor of the Sanson Science Building at FAU’s Boca campus, an older man with glasses and a lab coat stands behind a guy in a baseball cap at a computer. He motions to a large metal box-like gadget to their right.

“It’s called High Performance Liquid Chromatography,” says the graduate student sitting at the computer. “We use it to separate biomaterials.”

The man with the glasses smiles, then says, “It’s a $100,000 machine.”

This is the scene inside Herbert Weissbach’s lab. A professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and director of FAU’s Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Weissbach has been a researcher at FAU for about 10 years.

Like most researchers at FAU he balances teaching with research. His research focuses on oxidative damage, cell damage caused by oxidants and chemicals that steal electrons from other substances. One of his most recent projects was a skin cancer treatment gel that FAU licensed to a commercial company.

He also mentors a few graduate students. David Brunell, who’s working on his Ph.D. in Biochemistry, is one of them.

“I can’t imagine having a better professor,” Brunell says. “He has a way of inspiring people to work hard and do their best without being a slave driver.”

Weissbach wasn’t always a university researcher. Before he came to FAU, he worked for the U.S. government and spent 27 years in the biomedical industry.

He says the biggest difference between doing research for a university and for a company is money.

“A researcher at a university spends much more time and effort trying to raise research funds,” Weissbach says. “I spend very little time in the lab now. Most of my work is writing grant proposals and papers, serving on committees and working on patent applications.”

Getting money for research is probably one of the hardest things university researchers have to do, but it’s also the most important, Weissbach says. “I may want to go to the moon, but if I don’t have a spaceship, I’m not getting there.”