UC Davis Distinguished Professor Bruce Hammock: Mentor Extraordinaire

Bruce Hammock, 2012
Bruce Hammock, 2012
Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are alumni of the laboratory of UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock--they all praise him for his excellent mentoring, his love of science, and his caring personality.

If you're a member of the Hammock lab, you're family.

So it was no surprise--no surprise at all--when Jean-Pierre Delplanque, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies announced that Hammock is a recipient of a 2024 Graduate Studies Distinguished Graduate and Postdoctoral Mentoring Award

“Your dedication to mentoring is truly commendable, and this recognition is well-deserved,” he told Hammock in an email.

The annual award recognizes “the vital role mentoring plays in the academic and professional development of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at UC Davis.” The professor will receive a certificate and a $1,000 education enrichment award.

Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Center, “is an incredible mentor, legendary scientist, highly supportive colleague, and a great friend,” wrote nominator and former Hammock lab member Guodong Zhang, now an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition. “He richly deserves this prestigious award.”

“Bruce is an unwavering source of guidance in navigating the complexities of academia,” Zhang wrote. “His pride in my accomplishments, be it a publication, grant, or award, has been palpable.  The genuine joy he expresses underscores the supportive and nurturing mentorship I have received….He is the best mentor, collaborator and friend I have ever encountered in my professional journey.  His invaluable guidance and unwavering support have been pivotal in fostering the success of numerous lab members. He is undeniably a giant in the field of science.  However, what truly sets him apart is his unwavering commitment to student mentoring, his devoted care for group members, and his exemplary role as a model for training the next generation of scientists.”

Zhang described the Hammock lab as a “highly multidisciplinary, with members having scientific backgrounds in nutrition, pharmacology, analytical chemistry, cancer, pain, and environmental toxicology. From these extensive interactions within and outside of the research group, I have learned how to conduct scientific collaborations."   

“The 3-year postdoc training in the Hammock lab stands out as one of the most rewarding periods in my research journey,” Zhang related.  “In my moments of experimental setbacks, Bruce was a constant source of encouragement, guiding me on extracting valuable insights from negative data.  Conversely, when experiments yielded positive results, he offered insightful advice and introduced me to other labs at UC Davis, thus broadening the scope of our research projects.  Bruce was most excited about the ‘unexpected data' because of his belief that such anomalies often herald new scientific discoveries.  And he always encouraged us to perform experiments to disprove his favorite hypotheses, fostering a positive and nurturing research environment.” 

In his letter of nomination, Zhang shared comments by four other Hammock lab alumni: Kin Sing Stephen Lee,  now an assistant professor, Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University; Yuxin Wang, lead computational biologist and manager of the Stephen Lindemann lab, Purdue University; Weicang Wang, assistant professor, Department of Food Science, Purdue University, and Susanne Mumby, retired assistant dean for postdoctoral affairs at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. (Read the comments here) 

'If Science Is Not Fun, It Shouldn't Be Done!'

We remember when Marlin Rice, a past president of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) chronicled Hammock in a 2020 Legends feature in the ESA's American Entomologist and asked what he looks for in researchers seeking to join his lab.  "Curiosity," Hammock replied. "And then there's this: If science is not fun, then it shouldn't be done. And if they enjoy science, then they probably will be successful."

A member of the UC Davis faculty since 1980, Hammock is known for his expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry, entomology and human health research. His work in enzyme research alone spans more than 50 years. He co-discovered a human enzyme termed Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase (sEH), a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of fatty acids. The enzyme regulates a new class of natural chemical mediators, which in turn regulates inflammation, blood pressure and pain,  and is in human clinical trials to replace opioid analgesics. 

As director of the UC Davis Superfund Research Program (funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) for nearly four decades, Hammock supported scores of pre- and postdoctoral scholars in interdisciplinary research in five different colleges and graduate groups on campus. campus. He ran a pre- and postdoctoral training grant associated with this program and in addition for 15 years was principal investigator of a NIH training grant in the  UC Davis Biotechnology Program.

Hammock is an internationally celebrated scientist. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the National Academy of Sciences, the California Academy of Sciences, and ESA.  At UC Davis, he received both the Academic Senate's Distinguished Teaching Award and the Faculty Research Lectureship. In 2020, UC Davis Chancellor Gary May awarded him the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. 

His story, however, begins in Arkansas. 

A native of Little Rock, Ark., Bruce received his bachelor's degree in entomology (with minors in zoology and chemistry) magna cum laude from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1969. He received his doctorate in entomology-toxicology from UC Berkeley in 1973 with John Casida at UC Berkeley. Hammock served as a public health medical officer with the U.S. Army Academy of Health Science, San Antonio, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Department of Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

In the Army, he served as a medical officer at Fort Sam, Houston, and what he saw--severely burned people in terrible pain--made a lasting impression on him. Today he's deeply involved in his research at UC Davis and the company he founded, EicOsis, in 2011 to alleviate pain in humans and companion animals.

And today, UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock is a newly announced recipient of a 2024 Graduate Studies Distinguished Graduate and Postdoctoral Mentoring Award. Not only highly commendable, but so well-deserved!