James Horn: Part coach, part student

James Horn
James Horn

James Horn was a biochemist in training as early as middle school.

He can still recall Huntley Middle School teacher Larry Engelsman performing a chemistry demonstration with water and dry ice during Halloween season as the song “Weird Science” played in the background. But it wasn’t until high school that he decided to pursue science as his life’s work.

As a student at DeKalb High School, he credits his AP chemistry teacher, Scott Williams, for continually challenging and inspiring him to continue pursue science as a potential career.

In 1992, Horn decided to attend Knox College to study biochemistry. He then earned a Ph.D. from University of Iowa in 2002, and served as a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern Medical School and University of Chicago prior to coming to NIU in 2006.

During his NIU tenure, Horn has earned multiple awards, including a David W. Raymond Grant for Use of Technology in Teaching, an NSF CAREER Award and the Faculty Mentor of the Year Award. He currently teaches courses focusing on proteins and general chemistry.

Horn said teaching allows him to wear many hats.

“I’m part presenter, coach, student and, occasionally, an amateur comedian,” Horn said. “I don’t take myself too seriously, but I take the subject seriously. I think that helps me connect with students by breaking down some of the barriers that can exist between students and a professor. Part of this involves creating some rather unconventional analogies to help students understand the subject better.”

Jon Carnahan, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said he is proud to call Horn a colleague and that the university is fortunate to have an educator of his caliber.

“He leads his students with high-quality teaching and has a talent for relating his research to the classroom topics at hand,” Carnahan said. “His students not only perform well, but he instills in them a learning mindset that carries with them long after they leave his classroom. Jim is truly a great young man and a great teacher.”

His students seem to agree.

Robert Hoey, a former undergraduate research student and current research associate at Takeda, said he was fortunate to have had the experience of learning under Horn’s tutelage.Sci

“He worked side-by-side with each one of us educating, mentoring and challenging us to think critically and to analyze,” Hoey said. “It was truly a remarkable opportunity for young, inexperienced researchers to develop the foundation to become scientists as undergraduates.”

Horn said that he enjoys the opportunity to share his passion for science with students in the classroom and laboratory.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great students,” Horn said. “Seeing students not just connect with topic – when the proverbial light bulb go on – but watching students take the ideas to the next level and making connections in new ways, that’s what I enjoy most.”

Horn resides in Sycamore with his wife, Laurie, and two children, Kyle and Katie.

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