A Focus on the Provost's Priorities: Prosanta Chakrabarty

Professor Chakrabarty in LaboratoryAssociate Professor Prosanta Chakrabarty is highly sought out due to his expertise in fish curation and his 2,500 square-foot research laboratory and collections space located in LSU’s Museum of Natural Sciences (MNS). Chakrabarty travels around the world to study the evolution and biogeography of known, newly discovered, and extinct fishes. Chakrabarty recently celebrated the open house for his ichthyology museum on campus that houses more than 300,000 fish and over 2,500 species. The MNS provides tours of Chakrabarty’s lab to students and others interested in fishes at an almost weekly basis and presents the idea of what a professional ichthyologist looks like. In addition, several LSU courses use the collections on a regular basis.  

Originally from New York City and joining LSU in 2008, Chakrabarty became LSU’s second fish curator after his successor, the late Mike Fitzsimons. As a faculty member, he trains his students and builds infrastructure on fish curation in the United States and abroad. Chakrabarty’s impressive diversity of fish specimens are requested from scientist and researchers from around the world.

“We have one of the largest fish DNA collections in the country, and all our specimens are online and available for people to use,” Chakrabarty explained. “There’s over a hundred thousand vertebrate tissues at this museum, and that’s one of the best in the world. So, when people need animal DNA, they come to us. We also publish six or seven scientific papers a year from this fish collection as well.”

There are four online databases that currently serve Professor Chakrabarty’s fish collections. The online databases are not the only place for researchers and students to access an ichthyology museum collection. It’s also used to recruit students into the world of science, natural history, evolution and ichthyology.

“We often offer [lab] tours, now that the collections are in this nice new space in the main Museum of Natural Science building in Foster Hall,” said Chakrabarty. “The undergraduate, graduate students and PhD students now have the opportunity to really think about fish projects while searching the shelves outside of the lab and their offices. We have kids that come through and they are just like ‘oh, I didn’t know you could do that.’ When I talk to high school students, I tell them what I do and show them videos of me collecting fish in mangroves in Tanzania or caves in Australia— and they’re like ‘oh, that actually seems really fun!’”

Professor Chakrabarty spoke about the cutting-edge research that is being conducted in his laboratory on a daily basis which introduces his students to genomic level research.

Fish in Laboratory“The research we’re doing here is cutting edge, but it also mixed with old-school collecting,” said Chakrabarty. “It’s great that LSU allows us to be appreciative of both. We do the fundamental research that needs to be done in order to discover the applied stuff like new medicines —you need this basic science research before you can do that applied stuff.”

For many of his students, this is their first time receiving a global experience even though they are not physically leaving the state for class. Chakrabarty wants his students to build a mindset of experiencing the world which is all part of his retention and recruitment plan.

Our goal is to find ways to keep students in the college by preparing them and showing them the breath of opportunities in math and science,” said Chakrabarty about his Task Force on Recruitment and Retention with Dr. Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy and others in the College of Science. “We love making new doctors, but many College of Science students don’t know of other options outside of medical school. The Task Force with the lead of Dean Cynthia Peterson came up with a new Freshman Seminar Class, Sci 1001 that helps new students learn about the breath of opportunities for them while at LSU and in Louisiana after they graduate. There are a number of reports about how Baton Rouge and Louisiana will need more STEM majors in the future who can apply their math, biology, physics, chemistry, and geology skills. The museum is a great place to show kids – yes, you can pursue a career in almost anything you are passionate about.”

As LSU expands its online courses, Professor Chakrabarty hopes to incorporate new online opportunities for his Evolution class in the future.

“In the summer of 2020, I will be teaching an LSU study abroad class, Evolution, in the Galapagos, and I plan to have some filming done while we are there so that it can be incorporated into an online version of the class sometime in the future,” said Chakrabarty.

When asked what keeps him at LSU personally, Professor Chakrabarty mentioned that he has learned to love LSU and Baton Rouge for so many different reasons.

Different species of fishes“The fish collection is my baby,” said Chakrabarty. “I have really learned to love this place. LSU has really allowed me to be the scientist that I have always wanted to be. LSU gives me freedom, I like the kids I teach, I love my colleagues, the museum, the College of Science and other parts of LSU. I feel really lucky.”

Professor Chakrabarty is an LSU Associate Professor and Curator of Fishes. Chakrabarty’s research interest is to better understand the evolutionary processes and patterns that gave rise to the diversity of fishes globally. Chakrabarty earned his PhD at the University of Michigan and his undergraduate degree from McGill University in Montreal. He is a TED Senior Fellow and was recently elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.