Inaugural Faculty Achievement Award goes to forensic genetics expert


By Alex Branch

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John Planz, PhD, who has developed online training modules used in more than 140 crime labs across the United States, was the recipient of the inaugural Faculty Achievement Award.

Dr. Planz, Associate Professor in the Institute of Molecular Medicine, received the award at the UNT Health Science Center graduation ceremony Saturday, May 20.

“Frankly, I was shocked to hear my name,” Dr. Planz said. “And I certainly felt honored.”

Dr. Planz was one of five finalists for the honor, which includes a $10,000 award. Other finalists were Howe Liu, PhD, MPT, MD, Professor of Physical Therapy; Rita Patterson, PhD, Professor of Family Medicine; Katalin Prokai, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacy; and David Sterling, PhD, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

Finalists and the recipient were selected by a committee of peers led by the Faculty Senate.

Dr. Planz joined the Health Science Center in 2000 and founded the university’s forensic genetics program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2001. He obtained $14 million in grant funding from National Institute of Justice and the FBI, and he developed ground-breaking online training modules that elevated expertise in forensic statistics in crime labs across the country.

“At one point, we had 475 professionals at crime labs, as well as some U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, taking the course at the same time,” he recalled. “It was a fun experience because we got to try so many things that hadn’t been done before.”

Since it was created, more than 100 students have graduated with a master’s of science degree in the forensic genetics program, and about 96 percent of those graduates work in crime labs today. Many are laboratory directors and supervisors.

“The students we get at the Health Science Center are incredibly bright and talented,” he said. “It is a pleasure watching them learn and then go become leaders in forensic genetics.”

Dr. Planz maintains a significant teaching load and service on numerous UNTHSC committees, and he is a reviewer for more than half a dozen prestigious research journals, including Nature. He also leads research into areas of molecular evolutionary genetics and population genetics applications for studying inter- and intra-specific diversity.

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