By Wendy Sarubbi | November 8, 2013 2:08 pm

Dr. Eric Utt, a Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences graduate who was smitten as a child with the microscopic algae he cultured from his yard, is the College of Medicine’s honoree at this year’s UCF Black & Gold Gala. The gala, held November 7 by the UCF Alumni Association, recognizes outstanding graduates who have reached for the stars.

After earning his B.A. and Masters degrees in microbiology from UCF and his Ph.D. from the University of Florida, Dr. Utt worked at the Centers for Disease and Control. He joined Pfizer Inc in 1993 as a research scientist in the Infectious Disease Antibacterial Group. Since 2007, he has been working at the business end of drug development, currently serving as Director of Global Portfolio Strategy at Pfizer, Inc., helping to ensure the drug company’s portfolio of pharmaceuticals is founded in quality science and technology.

Dr. Utt said he was always interested in science because it allows him to “know the unknown.”

“When my uncle bought me my first microscope, I was given my first look at a previously hidden world,” he said. “From that point forward I was hooked.”

After he exhausted his supply of slides, the budding researcher created artificial swamps with dirt, grass, hay and water from the back yard. The material, placed in a tall water glass on his bedroom windowsill, “soon generated all kinds of living, moving creatures that I could actually study as they thrived in their own environment,” he explained.

A love of learning has also helped Dr. Utt deal with a life challenge. He lost his hearing at age 3 and says self-directed learning has helped him deal with his hearing impairment. “As a scientist, we all essentially have taken an oath to be informed and to remain that way.  Not just to continuously seek knowledge about our respective areas, but to actively push the boundaries of knowledge forward,” he said. “Thus we all must commit to being lifelong learners.”

Through his UCF training and his role at Pfizer, Dr. Utt is committed to scientific partnerships as a way to translate lab research into better treatments for patients. He sees the links between basic and applied research as an “ecosystem of dynamic partnerships.”

“Patients need new and better medicines,” he said. “The only way we can accomplish this is by leveraging our strengths within the larger ecosystem network.  Thus all the players in the ecosystem must understand each other, trust one another and work together is a mutually beneficial and transparent way.  We need to creatively explore new ways of collaborating. By looking outside the old boundaries, we can build better bridges and truly live up to the expectation that the 21st century will be the century of biology.”

His UCF training during his formative years as a scientist gave Dr. Utt many important lessons, including the fact that every answer one develops in science generates more new questions. “The continuous pursuit of knowledge is a given,” he said. “I learned never to be afraid of a result, even if it disproves a hypothesis because science is the search for the truth, not for a result.  That is an important perspective that keeps us all honest.”

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