Dr. Martin Stillman, professor of Bioinorganic Chemistry, was recently recognised by the Canadian Society for Chemistry with the Rio Tinto Alcan Award for more than two decades of distinguished research in inorganic chemistry. A veteran of research in this subdiscipline at Western University, Stillman credits the many students, since 1975, which have pursued their graduate studies under his supervision with the significant number and quality of papers and results associated with his lab. He underscored that “research outcomes are based on very clever and able students. In the end, they are the ones who make it all happen.”
In a third-year undergraduate course himself when he was first captivated by a research question that continues, in evolutionary stages, to fuel the interest and focus of his lab work to this day: the role that iron plays when oxygen binds to hemoglobin, Stillman is particularly pleased with the establishment of a working model poised to help the community better understand how metals are buffered - in other words, how metal concentrations are balanced in a cell; the way in which metals find their way into a protein; where it travels within the cell and what exactly triggers the transfer of the metal in the first place.
According to Stillman, “an organism can really only cope with the narrow confines of particular nutritional offerings.” If you were to feed a plant too much potassium or salt, it would not survive. Humans are similar in that too much or too little non-toxic metals in our diets cause a chemical imbalance.
Stillman continues to inspire. After 40 years of research, he continues to talk enthusiastically about the ability of his lab to look back and fill in the research gaps of yesteryear and establish the questions that will ignite the next generation of research in the field.