David Fernández-Baca honored with Dale D. Grosvenor Chair

David Fernández-Baca, professor in the Department of Computer Science, has received the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dale D. Grosvenor Chair award.

“David has made enduring contributions to the bioinformatics program, maintained an exemplary research record and coordinated highly effective interdisciplinary teams,” said Hridesh Rajan, interim chair of the Department of Computer Science and Kingland Professor of Data Analytics. “I am very pleased that he received the Dale D. Grosvenor Chair award for his many years of service to Iowa State University.”

Fernández-Baca’s research in computational phylogenetics uses mathematical algorithms to analyze the evolution of genes and species. A recent project focuses on legumes, a family of species that includes soy beans, peas and lentils. His work has fostered a richer understanding of legume evolution and could someday lead to enhanced legume varietals with greater disease resistance and boosted nutritional values.

“I am very humbled and honored to receive the Dale D. Grosvenor Chair award which will greatly help me to expand my research efforts,” Fernández-Baca said.

In addition, his research involves working with evolutionary biologists to develop phylogenetic trees, which map complex evolutionary relationships, genomic data and historical patterns for legumes. Fernández-Baca plots this information into complex relational databases.

Fernández-Baca’s research career spans thirty years and his work has been published in dozens of peer-reviewed journals. He’s secured highly competitive grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling more than $6 million. He earned the NSF Tree of Life award in 2002 and 2010.

A trailblazer and an effective collaborator, Fernández-Baca was part of the team who established Iowa State’s Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB) Graduate Program—one of the first BCB programs in the United States.

In 1991, he earned an Excellence in Teaching Award from Iowa State University. Fernández-Baca teaches introductory computer programming, as well as undergraduate- and graduate-level algorithm and computational biology classes.

Fernández-Baca will use the award funds to support his research and his students’ research, in addition to financing academic travel and purchasing updated equipment.

The award was established by Dale D. Grosvenor, who graduated from Iowa State University with a Ph.D. in statistics, a master’s degree in statistics and bachelor’s degrees in both mechanical engineering and agricultural engineering. He served on the faculty at Iowa State in the Department of Statistics, the ISU Computation Center and the Department of Computer Science. Grosvenor passed away in 2012.

“I don’t know how to thank the university, but I will continue working as hard and as well as I can at Iowa State,” Fernández-Baca said. “Dale was a friend and colleague for many years and I know firsthand how much he loved Iowa State. It is quite incredible that he left this generous gift to the university.”

Fernández-Baca received a bachelor of science in computer engineering from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. After earning his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Davis in 1986, he joined the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State.