The Department of Environmental Health Sciences traces its origins to the founding of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. It was one of the original departments.
In the early 1920s, Anna Baetjer joined the department as a graduate student and earned a doctor of science degree. In 1924, she became a faculty member, a position she held for 60 years until her death.
Dr. Baetjer's early research was on the effects of environmental climatic conditions of altitude and temperature on physiologic variables. She later turned her attention to occupational cancer and, still later, host defense mechanisms. During the severe economic constraints of the 1930s, the department was virtually disbanded except for Dr. Baetjer, who retained her position as chairperson and sole faculty member.
In 1985, an endowed professorship was established to honor Dr. Baetjer. Dr. Gareth Green was selected as the first recipient of this honor. In 1990, he announced plans to retire as chair of the department.
Following a self-study review and subsequent search, Dr. John Groopman was selected as the new chair of the department and assumed his responsibilities on January 1, 1993. Additionally, he was installed as the second Anna M. Baetjer Professor in Environmental Health.
Dr. Groopman's expertise is in the development and application of molecular biomarkers to assess risk in human populations from exposure to environmental carcinogens. In 1995, Dr. Groopman also took on the position of associate director of the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center for Cancer Prevention and Control. This important linkage marked a larger effort to facilitate collaborations between departmental faculty and the Oncology Center in the area of environmental carcinogenesis. After leading the department for 19 years, Dr. Groopman, now retired as chair, continues his position as Anna M. Baetjer Professor in Environmental Health and is pursuing an innovative global health research project entitled “Aflatoxin as a Cause of Stunting at Birth.”
In early 2012, Marsha Wills-Karp, PhD, a leader in the study of the molecular mechanisms of asthma, became the new chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
Dr. Wills-Karp was previously professor and the founding director of the Division of Immunobiology in the Department of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She also directed the Immunobiology Graduate Program at Cincinnati. Wills-Karp previously worked at Johns Hopkins as a postdoctoral fellow from 1987 to 1990 and was a member of the faculty from 1990 to 2000. She is a graduate of Southwest Texas State University. She earned her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara and completed postdoctoral training at Yale University.
The Department, with the support of the School and the family and friends of Anna Baetjer, hosts an Anna Baetjer Lecture.