By Leanne Moore Rodriguez
Banik is excited to join the chemical biology and organic chemistry faculty and focus on bringing together chemistry and cell biology. He noted, “You can be whatever you want at Stanford and in the Stanford Chemistry Department. They really seem to appreciate that type of thinking and people who have an interdisciplinary focus.”
He is thrilled to be able to work with the talented chemistry graduate students and faculty he’s seen at Stanford for the last three years and will also be a part of ChEM-H, an interdisciplinary research center that brings together researchers in different fields to understand life at a molecular level and apply that knowledge to improving human health.
A Chance Encounter
Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Banik continued the family tradition of attending University of Wisconsin—Madison for his undergraduate degree where he began as an archaeology major. One day during his freshman year, he was filling out an application for a summer archaeology program in Mongolia in a quiet hallway when his chemistry professor happened to walk by and ask what he was doing. Banik told the professor about the program who responded, “Come to my office tomorrow and I’ll tell you about something else you could do this summer.” Banik remembered, “I went to his office the next day and he offered me a job.”
Banik enjoyed his summer working in chemistry and ended up being one of the first students to join Mahesh Mahanthappa’s lab. The change to chemistry felt natural to Banik who noted, “It made a lot of sense because I was always interested in building things and understanding their mechanisms. In retrospect, everything I love about chemistry is incorporated in those ideas; that we can build something, then study how it changes something else around us.” His fascination with the science has only grown, as he now notes, “I love that you can be very creative but also pursue things very deeply and understand exactly what’s happening at a molecular level.”
Throughout the rest of his undergraduate experience, Banik did research with Mahanthappa on polymer synthesis. He also participated in two undergraduate research experiences at other universities – one with Nicholas Turro at Columbia and the other with Bob Waymouth, when he had his first exposure to Stanford.
Next, Banik attended Harvard University for graduate school where he did research with Eric Jacobsen focused on developing new catalytic reactions and studying their mechanisms. He said, “I was drawn to the opportunity to not only design and construct molecules, but then to carefully analyze structure-function relationships in the context of a chemical reaction.”
Staying at Stanford
Banik started his postdoctoral research in 2017 with Carolyn Bertozzi at Stanford. “I wanted to take my interests in molecular design and synthesis and apply them towards biological questions, and Carolyn is amazing at integrating chemistry and biology in really interesting ways,” Banik stated.
Throughout his postdoc, he’s worked broadly in an area that’s aimed at engineering how cells control proteins. He noted that his postdoc has been centered around “thinking about ways that we can use the machinery that the cell possesses to accomplish a task, and basically rewiring the cellular circuitry to have some benefit – in this case, deleting specific proteins that could be pathogenic or disease-causing.”
Banik plans to build on these ideas in his lab. “I’d like to focus my lab on thinking about how we can precisely manipulate the biological machines that we possess in our cells and how we can ask them to do new things that they’re not doing right now, or how we can perturb them in a way that teaches us something about how a cell is behaving,” he noted.
Carolyn Bertozzi, a professor of Chemistry and director of ChEM-H, expressed her excitement over Banik joining the department as faculty. She said, “We are thrilled to have Steven Banik joining the Department of Chemistry and Stanford ChEM-H. Steven brings to our community deep expertise in mechanistic and synthetic chemistry as well as cell and synthetic biology. His research program will shift the field of chemical biology in exciting new directions with profound implications for human health.”
Since Bertozzi’s lab was recently relocated to the ChEM-H Building, Banik looks forward to occupying the vacated lab space in the Keck Science Building where he will sit in his advisor’s former office.