RICHLAND, Wash. — Washington State University Tri-Cities and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have jointly hired a new scientist to help create a post-graduate molecular biosciences program at the WSU Tri-Cities campus while serving as a key contributor at the laboratory.

The hire of Diana J. Bigelow, most recently an associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas, represents the first step in a new partnership that will leverage the branch campus’ educational strengths and PNNL’s scientific research proficiency.

WSU Tri-Cities officials are creating a program that offers new education opportunities to local residents and could potentially draw new students from around the region to the campus. Bigelow will serve as chief designer of this program, which will provide a unique training experience for young scientists who will work in post-genomics biology.

PNNL will provide internship and post-doctoral study opportunities for students enrolled in the program. Opportunities for program graduates are expected to include positions in biotechnology companies as well as at PNNL and academic institutions.

“We’re pleased and excited to have a scientist and educator of Dr. Bigelow’s stature join our faculty,” said Larry G. James, WSU Tri-Cities’ campus executive officer and dean. “This arrangement will strengthen our programs and allow the campus to provide expanded opportunities to our students and the community.”

Bigelow will join the 60 staff members already supporting PNNL’s Biomolecular Systems Initiative, a program focused on the study of molecular and cellular activity on a systems level www.biomolecular.org .

“Diana is a distinguished scientific investigator who will bring additional resources to the laboratory’s biological programs,” said Steve Wiley, BSI director at PNNL. “We also will have an opportunity to work more closely with WSU Tri-Cities in an area of research that promises to be significant to PNNL’s future.”

Bigelow received her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in 1985 and has taught at the University of Kansas since 1990. Most recently, she served as the director of the biochemistry and biophysics group for the university’s Department of Molecular Biosciences.

As Bigelow explains it, “The first phase of the Human Genome Project gave us the ‘parts list’ for the human organism. The second phase is to gain an understanding of how those parts work together, both under normal and disease states. This is what is called systems biology.”

Bigelow is well known for her studies of calcium regulation and how it is affected in aging, particularly in skeletal muscle and the heart.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a DOE research facility and delivers breakthrough science and technology in the areas of environment, energy, health, fundamental sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated the laboratory for DOE since 1965.

WSU has been offering courses for credit in the Tri-Cities since 1946. Currently, some 1,200 students attend courses at the north Richland campus.