Bill Self is a Florida boy. Actually, he was born in Birmingham, AL.; but his family moved to Merritt Island, Florida when he was eight years old. He grew up in Florida, attended school here – twice, and continues to live and work here. The Florida history has proven a foundation that still influences his life. He even married a Florida girl (a native of Naples); he met his wife while she was at Florida State University (FSU), and then she transferred to the University of Florida (UF), where he completed both his undergraduate and graduate work, earning both his B.S and Ph.D. in Microbiology. In 2003, he brought his experience and Florida momentum to UCF.
Self did not originally set out to become a professor – serendipity played a hand in the outcome. He was not opposed to the idea, but it was not his original plan. You might say that basketball brought about the decision for him. He went back to UF to watch a basketball game, where he had a chance discussion with his advisor from his undergraduate research project. That professor casually suggested that Self should attend graduate school. Self completed the application and was approved for a fellowship. He earned his Ph.D. in 1998, after working for the State of Florida for a year and a half in between, in the State Food Safety lab as a bacteriologist. Self then worked at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) from 1998 to 2003 on a post-doctoral fellowship.
With a Ph.D. in Microbiology, Self felt like there were more opportunities to work in education in the Florida area, rather than working in pharmaceuticals, his other option. Fortunately for UCF, his decision to become one has proven quite beneficial. As a faculty member in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, he stays busy.
Why UCF? Self was attracted by the growth occurring at UCF, particularly in 2003. “The lab was brand new, it was a young institution (relatively), and there were a large number of new Assistant Professor hires. This was exciting to me,” says Self. He had opportunities at other institutions. But UCF was where he wanted to be. “I am still excited to be here. The Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology has now been brought into the new College of Medicine as part of its research arm,” he adds.
So what is that research? “Metals and metalloids are my primary interest,” says Self. “Particularly, Selenium. It is a micronutrient.” Selenium is also very toxic, which makes it a double-edged sword. All mammals and some bacteria need Selenium. Self and his team studies how mammals and bacteria take in and process Selenium at the molecular level; i.e., how bacteria and mammals use it. Self worked on his post-doc at NIH under the woman who discovered the use of Selenium in bacteria. Selenium is needed by many different bacteria; some use it for growth, some may use it to cause infection. Recently we have stumbled upon a old drug that can potentially block the bacteria from using it.
Toxicology is Self’s second research area. The third is that of the study of nanomaterials as antioxidants. “These are engineered materials, created in a lab, rather than in nature,” Self adds. “The industrial revolution has put many nanomaterials into the atmosphere. We are looking for positive antioxidant benefits of these nanomaterials, but are also interested in the toxicology of nanomaterials as well.”
Self is also a faculty member of the EXCEL program. EXCEL is UCF’s innovative program to boost the success rate of students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. He lectures in Applications of Calculus I and II, which he has done for the past three years. The courses relate the calculus to real-life experimental designs and interpretations for problem solving. He adds, “As a side point, a good portion of the students happen to be in the Burnett school of biomedical science. I’m happy to represent the school within the EXCEL program.”
“I believe in the EXCEL program because any way to engage freshmen and sophomores into STEM disciplines is fundamental to their success. They gain insight into what they will do in the junior and senior years, as well as learn how it will be used in their careers. The learning communities created by the program makes so much sense to help the freshmen get acclimated to college and to the program.”
In addition to his EXCEL work and a heavy research load, Self mentors four Ph.D. candidates, two Master’s candidates, one post-doctoral associate, and one research associate. Self has one patent thus far, for the work in nanomaterials, which he happened to receive on his birthday. Nice going, Florida boy.