Ohio State professor Gary Wenk on stage at TEDxColumbus in 2012. Credit: YouTube Screenshot

While choosing some of the brightest minds in Ohio to act on the medical marijuana advisory committee, Gov. John Kasich hand-picked many politicians, physicians and pharmacists. Among them stands one lone scientist, Gary Wenk, an Ohio State professor.

With his research on Alzheimer’s disease being a hot topic on radio shows and television shows including CBS News, CNN, The Dr. Oz Show and a two-hour TV documentary shot by the makers of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Wenk continues to relay his scientific findings to lawmakers and officials like Kasich.

But his story begins much earlier than his first TV appearances. It began when Wenk was a young boy with a spark of curiosity, and eventually resulted in a doctorate. in neurotoxicology.

“When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I would take brown paper bags from groceries, open them up, tape them to the wall and learn brain anatomy.”

After receiving his doctoral degree, Wenk became a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and eventually earned a position as director of the Ohio State’s undergraduate neuroscience programs. Then, in 2016, he was appointed to the medical marijuana advisory committee.

He wanted to be a medical doctor because of TV shows such as “ER” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” His parents supported the decision; however, after attending medical school, Wenk’s course of action changed.

“The study of medicine is absolutely fascinating,” he said, “but the act of practicing medicine is boring.”

It was this opinion that led him to the research world.

Holly Brothers, a researcher who, under the mentorship of Wenk, received her doctorate in behavioral neuroscience in 2013, described the seven years spent working with him as extremely influential.

“He changed the way I thought about Alzheimer’s research,” Brothers said. “Gary reminded us to ask the bigger questions like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ or ‘What’s the point?’”

Along with the support of his mentors, Wenk credits his ability to focus and control his interests to 20 years of martial arts training.

“You do one thing at a time in total focus. You don’t become distracted,” he said, referring to his sensei’s teachings. Wenk bases his life philosophy and research endeavors on this teaching, keeping his desk void of anything unnecessary for the task he has at hand.

Nearing retirement, Wenk is currently writing his third book, while still continuing his research.

“The only thing that determines whether you succeed in science is curiosity, not intelligence,” Wenk said. “If you’re driven every morning to get up because there is something you want to know the answer to, you’re going to succeed.”