Texas Tech University

Associate Dean John Zak

Shepherding College Research

John Zak, TTU

John Zak, Ph.D., is the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Arts & Sciences. His role in the college is to help facilitate the individual and collective research efforts of faculty, post-docs and graduate students in each of the 16 departments that comprise the college. Through interactions with the other colleges at TTU, Zak helps develop collaborative research programs that address the eight strategic research areas at TTU. His other duties include coordinating the development of start-up packages for new faculty, assisting in promoting laboratory safety needs and training throughout the college, helping to address space needs in the college, and organizing the college's semester based Scholar Incentive Awards Program.

Collaborative Efforts: Zak is the TTU-PI for the South Central Climate Science Center and co-director of the TTU- Climate Science Center. The SC-CSC consortium is co-lead with the University of Oklahoma and Texas Tech University and includes Oklahoma State University, Louisiana State University and the Tribal Nations in Oklahoma. The Climate Science Center is one of the eight regional USGS funded Climate Science Centers in the United States.

In his role as a faculty member and research scientist, Zak isa professor of biology in the Department of Biological Sciences. John is a soil microbial ecologist whose research seeks to understand how climate variability and human disturbances regulate soil microbial diversity and activity; from the cotton fields of West Texas to the Chihuahuan Desert at Big Bend National Park, to the piney woods of Ft. Benning, Georgia, and back to the watersheds of the Texas Hill Country at Junction, Texas. In each of these projects Zak's lab is focused on understanding how soil microbial dynamics and processes are critical for ensuring that these systems are sustainable for future generations.  His research is currently funded by the National Park Service, USDA and Cotton Inc. He teaches in the introductory majors and non-majors microbiology rotations and upper division and graduate classes in Microbial Ecology and the Biology of Fungi.

Specific Research Areas:

  • Soil microbial dynamics and biodiversity patterns in arid and semi-arid systems.
  • Determining the impacts of climate variability on ecological processes in arid systems.
  • Understanding the landscape level consequences of nitrogen deposition in arid and semi-arid regions.
  • Developing sustainable agro-ecosystems in semi-arid landscapes.
  • Understanding the environmental factors controlling antibiotic resistance in aquatic bacteria.
  • Linking daily temperature variability and drought dynamics in semi-arid ecosystems.
  • Developing research opportunities in environmental biology for community college students –The El Centro- TRAC Model, and TTU- & MCC.

Research Locations:

  • Big Bend National Park
  • Cotton fields of West Texas
  • Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas
  • Waco Wetlands
  • Llano River Field Station, Texas Hill Country

Outside of work, he enjoys cooking and experimenting with new recipes, hosting dinners with friends, working in the garden, hiking, reading and spending time with family.

Dr. Zak ...
At a Glance


  • Microbial Ecology


  • Eco Systems & Climate Change
  • Agriculture in Semi-Arid Environments
  • Aquatic Microbiology

John Zak, TTU

Associate Dean, Research

Awards & Honors:

  • TTU Teaching Academy member
  • President's Excellence in Teaching Award, 2011


  • Ph.D., Biology, University of Calgary
  • M.S., Biology, The University of Pittsburgh
  • B.S., Biology, The University of Pittsburgh