Rene Boiteau joins Department of Chemistry faculty

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (05/04/2023) – The Department of Chemistry will welcome Rene Boiteau as an Assistant Professor in fall 2023. Boiteau has been a faculty member at Oregon State University since 2018, with a joint appointment in the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL) Environmental Molecular Sciences Division.

Boiteau’s journey through interdisciplinary education began with his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, where he earned a BS in Chemistry in 2009. He then went on to earn is MPhil in Earth Sciences at Cambridge University, followed by a PhD in Chemical Oceanography, which he earned at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 2016. Later that same year Boiteau joined PNNL as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2018, he joined the Oregon State University faculty. For the past five years, Boiteau has been an Assistant Professor at Oregon State and has held a joint appointment with PNNL’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Division. 

Boiteau’s research is focused on addressing the growing impact of humans on the environment, which has vastly outpaced our ability to monitor and prevent negative consequences of industrialization, pollution, and climate change. In many cases, solutions are limited by poor understanding of chemical processes that govern the fate and effect of metals, nutrients, and carbon. The Boiteau Group works to address critical knowledge gaps regarding the mechanisms by which plants and microbes control elemental cycles in oceans, rivers, industrial/wastewaters, sediments, and soils by transforming various organic and inorganic chemical species. Much of Boiteau’s work is focused on developing analytical chemical approaches – especially mass spectrometry – that provide new windows into the complex molecular processes that occur in the environment. Leveraging these and other omics tools, Boiteau’s research goal is to develop predictive understanding of how metals and organic nutrients impact food webs, evolutionary adaptations, and environmental and human health. 

Projects in the Boiteau Group will continue to combine oceanographic and terrestrial field work around the world – spanning between the Gulf of Mexico, Antarctica, the Oregon Coast, the Red Sea, and the Colorado River – with analytical method development and rigorous laboratory studies. The group has a variety of funded projects that share a common theme of developing molecular insight into globally important environmental processes and problems. Many of these projects aim to discover the specific chemical strategies by which plants and microbes solubilize nutrients and metals to facilitate their uptake. The group’s goals include identifying keystone taxa that supply essential micronutrients to the global ocean, determining how root-associated microbes can benefit crop growth by improving access to soil nutrients, and remediating contaminated waters based on knowledge of the chemical processes that solubilize harmful elements. 

Throughout his higher education and career, Boiteau has had a passion for bringing science demonstrations and research into schools and communities to help spread an enthusiasm for chemistry and a recognition of important environmental issues. Boiteau's own first introduction to chemistry was in elementary school, when a scientist visited his classroom and demonstrated a simple chromatographic separation of ink from a 'black' marker into bands of many different colors using just rubbing alcohol and a coffee filter. This engagement made chemistry feel tangible and started him on the path to become a chemist. Through his research, Boiteau has also come to appreciate how advancements in chemistry are needed to monitor and address issues with water quality and environmental health. Boiteau says his enthusiasm for outreach combines his excitement to share a love for chemistry with young audiences while also working with communities to solve local problems. 

“One of the unique aspects of UMN that I am most excited about is that there is a large and vibrant community of scientists that are focused on environmental issues from many different and complementary directions including chemistry, biology, physical processes, engineering, and policy. Environmental problems are always complex, and cross-talk between fields is important for making a real impact.  And of course I'm looking forward to having 14,380 lakes to explore  – and study!”

When he’s not researching in the lab with his group or traveling the world for field work, Boiteau loves to spend time in nature and explore new places. He also loves to cook and has already been researching wild rice recipes to try out in anticipation of his move to Minnesota.