Montana State University

Phil Kopriva's Legacy

October 30, 2008 -- By Jody Sanford, College of Letters & Science

College Office

In 1991, Phil Kopriva, a 1957 microbiology graduate, created the Kopriva Seminar Series and the Kopriva Graduate Fellowship with a generous gift to the College of Letters and Science. Kopriva, who died in 2002, set up the endowments to provide support and opportunities for graduate students in L&S, particularly in the biomedical sciences.

The Kopriva Seminar Series was established as a means of disseminating and discussing on-going scientific research occurring at MSU and around the country. The seminars focus on multi and interdisciplinary research in biosciences and biochemistry. “During my graduate school days some of the most informative and enjoyable times were the many and varied seminars and colloquia I either led or simply attended,” Kopriva told The Montana State Collegian in 1999. “I wanted the Kopriva Seminar Series to provide students with experiences similar to mine. That is, to nurture and promote their professional, intellectual and personal growth and those ethereal things called memories.”

Last spring the seminar series brought Byron Caughey to the MSU campus. Caughey, a biochemist, is a senior investigator and chief of the TSE/prion biochemistry section of the Laboratory of Persistent Viral Diseases, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health in Hamilton. His research examines how rogue proteins, called prions, propagate and potentially lead to mad cow disease and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

In the fall of 2008 Theodore Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, came to the MSU campus as part of the seminar series. Dr. Berger’s current research is focused on the hippocampus, a neural system essential for learning and memory functions. He is developing a computer chip implant that could eventually replace its biological counterpart. This would allow people with a loss of function in the hippocampus to regain the ability to form new memories.

The Kopriva Graduate Fellowship is awarded to recognize and support the research of an outstanding graduate student in the areas of physiology and/or biochemistry. The fellowships are designed to provide financial assistance to the selected graduate students. “Graduate school demands in studies and research are of a nature that they require full-time attention by the student,” Kopriva said. “Many excellent students with a productive potential are lost to us because of financial needs.”

In 2008, two graduate students in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry were awarded Kopriva Graduate Fellowships. Each student will receive $5,000 that may be used for travel to meetings or classes, books, supplies, or any other materials or services in support of their Ph.D. research. Each student will deliver a Kopriva Student Research Lecture during the academic year.

Sunshine Silver will use her fellowship to study an enzyme found in spore-forming bacteria. The enzyme enhances the bacteria’s resistance to ultraviolet light, making it very difficult to kill these organisms which can threaten human health with a number of diseases.

Ramon Tusell’s fellowship will be used to develop techniques for modeling protein functions in the human body. Each human gene codes for a specific protein molecule (chain of amino acids) that performs a specific task, but how the proteins achieve these tasks is not well-understood at the atomic level.

"Phil Kopriva was committed to supporting the development of young biomedical scientists and the fellowship is going a long way to doing that,” said Paula Lutz, dean of the College of Letters and Science.

Updated: 04/15/2011