Amazing People Can Come From This Town

It’s true and our young people should be taught to believe it, and our teachers and guidance counselors should remember it everyday they work with a student who seems uninspired.  If you know someone who attends a Lake County school, attended, attends or is considering attending Lake Sumter State College, they should read this.

In late September Phil Baran was awarded a McCarthar Foundation Fellowship.  The MacArthur Fellowship is a five-year grant to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future. The fellowship is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their creative activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements. There are no limits on age or area of activity. Individuals cannot apply for this award; they must be nominated.

Yeah?  So Who is Baran?

Phil Baran, 2013 MacArthur FellowBaran was born in 1977 in the northern New Jersey town of Denville, about 40 miles from New York City. But his early childhood bore no inkling of his future interest in chemistry.

Mt. Dora High School / Lake Sumter Nurture a “Terrible Student” into a Genius

“When I went to school I was a terrible student,” says Baran. “I remember not being very interested and I wasn’t really good at anything. I just liked to play and build Legos. I wasn’t very good with social skills. . . I was pretty much not good at anything.” Not until high school and a move to Central Florida did Baran realize his special skills.

His Mount Dora High School guidance counselor urged him during sophomore year to take an astronomy course at nearby Lake-Sumter Community College. He enjoyed it so much that he pursued dual enrollment for his final three years.“All of a sudden when I was in high school and started learning more about chemistry, I really enjoyed the experiments there to the point where something took over me,” said Baran. “I realized this was more essential to me than oxygen.”

From Scooping Ice Cream to Creating Affordable Cures

While remarkable enough that Baran completed an associate’s degree three weeks before high school graduation, he did so while working 30-plus hours a week at a Friendly’s Restaurant. “I never had a silver spoon, never got anything for free, and [have] supported my mom to this day. I only recently paid off my college debt.”

By typical scientific metrics alone, Baran is thoroughly impressive. He trained with two of most notable organic chemists of our time, Scripps’ K.C. Nicolaou and Nobel laureate E.J. Corey at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. at 24, an independent laboratory position at 26, and tenure at 28. (For comparison, the average age for biomedical researchers receiving their first independent NIH grant is 42.)

Baran has also devised a scalable and more economical route to synthesis of ouabagenin, a steroid indicated for the treatment of congestive heart failure, enabling broader use of a treatment option whose production costs put it out of reach for most patients. Baran’s research is not only enhancing our ability to make fundamental structures for a broad range of medicines and materials, but is also strengthening the intellectual foundations of organic chemistry.


Of course congratulations are in order for Phil Baran, but let’s not forget to congratulate the educators of Lake County, Mt. Dora High School, and Lake Sumter State College.  I’m tired of hearing LSCC dumped on as some kind of less-than-desirable choice for students in Lake County to begin their higher education.  It’s simply not true.  I know many people who I highly respect that received their first higher education degree there and I am not surprised that a LSCC graduate has now shown up on the National / International stage.  It was only a matter of time and I doubt that Baran will be the last.



Not Just A Genius: Organic Chemist And New MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Phil Baran – Forbes.



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