Congratulations to our 2015 Award Winners


B. E. Warren Award to Laurence Marks

Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern Univ.


Marks began his scientific career in the UK, earning his BA and his PhD at the University of Cambridge. Among his most significant recognitions, he received a Sloan Foundation fellowship in 1987 and the Burton Medal from the Electron Microscopy Society of America for achievements in electron microscopy by a young researcher in1989. He has been fellow of the American Physical Society since 2002.


Laurence Marks studies materials at the nanoscale. He uses both a theoretical and a practical approach to analyze their atomic structures and to tweak their properties, with the idea of making them better suited for practical applications.  His laboratory uses a wide variety of techniques, such as x-ray crystallography, scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and single particle spectroscopy to name a few, to characterize different materials, from their surface structure to their frictional properties, and to corroborate models predicted with algorithms developed in house.


His research in particular focuses on: achieving more efficient catalysis using controlled oxide nanoparticles; improving solid oxide fuel cells, to produce electricity directly from hydrocarbons; understanding the characteristics of oxide surfaces, still largely uncharacterized, to design more desirable surfaces; studying the tearing-and-wearing process caused by friction of metallic surfaces, to improve, for example, prosthetic devices; and engineering a new type of concrete/cement with a cheaper energy production cost. 


Established in 1970 by students and friends of Professor B.E. Warren on the occasion of his retirement from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this award recognizes an important recent contribution to the physics of solids or liquids using X-ray, neutron, or electron diffraction techniques.


The award presentation and Prof. Marks' lecture is scheduled for Sunday, July 26, 2015, at 8:00am. 



Martin J. Buerger Award to Greg Petsko

Mahon Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, Emeritus, at Brandeis Univ.


Petsko started his impressive career with a BA degree from Princeton University (1970). He then moved across the pond as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University to pursue his doctorate with Sir David Chilton Phillips, which he completed in 1973. After a brief postdoc in Paris, he started his career at Wayne State University School of Medicine and in 1979 he moved to the MIT as an associate professor in chemistry, becoming full professor in 1985. He remained at MIT until 1990, when he joined the faculty of Brandeis University as the Lucille P. Markey Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry. While at Brandies he later became the Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, directed the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center and served a term as chair of the Department of Biochemistry. In 2012 he moved to Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where he was appointed as director of the Helen and Robert Appel Alzheimer's Disease Research Institute and as the Arthur J. Mahon Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience in the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute. He is also professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University.


The list of awards and honors he received for his extraordinary research activity is too long to report here. Highlights include: the Siddhu Award for outstanding contributions to x-ray diffraction from the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society (1980); the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (1986); the Max Planck Prize, shared with Roger Goody (1991); and the Lynen Medal, shared with Janet Thornton (2001). He is member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society and, he is a Fellow of the AAAS.  He is currently President of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.


During his career he has extensively used x-ray crystallography, molecular biology, yeast genetics, organic synthesis, enzyme kinetics and molecular dynamics calculations to understand enzyme structure and function. With Dagmar Ringe, his long-time collaborator at Brandeis, he has developed new diffraction techniques that allow recording entire macromolecular datasets in milliseconds and which, combined with low-temperature experiments, can be used to capture snapshots of catalytic intermediates. Recently he has focused his attention on neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou-Gehrig's diseases, using structure-based drug design techniques to develop possible therapeutics against what he defined, in his 2008 TED talk, as the "coming neurological epidemic".


Greg Petsko is a keen science communicator and an engaging public speaker. He is very involved in the discussions of the social aspects of science; following his first TED talk, he gave a second thought-provoking talk at TEDMED in 2012, where he took the audience through the science of Alzheimer's disease and its genesis, and pointed out the urgency of acting against it in an increasingly aging world—and the present lack of investment (i.e. money) to do so. He also contributes comments to BioMed and BMC Biology, and for more than a decade he has maintained a monthly column on science and society in Genome Biology. These entries are now collected in a book entitled Gregory Petsko in Genome Biology: The first ten years. (When pressed, however, he admits that the columns guest-written by his two dogs, Mink and Clifford, have been much more popular than those he writes himself.)


Petsko is a strong advocate of teaching arts and humanities as part of the science curriculum. He started his brilliant biochemical career with a major in classic literature, and he has often stated that studying humanities helped him become a better scientist. As such, while professor at Brandeis, alongside his biochemistry and chemistry classes, he taught several liberal arts courses: The Social History of the Detective Story; The Treatment of Science and Scientists in the Cinema; and Critical Thinking.


This award, established in 1983, recognizes mature scientists who have made contributions of exceptional distinction in areas of interest to the ACA. Awarded triennially in memory of Martin J. Buerger, Institute Professor Emeritus of M.I.T. and University Professor Emeritus of the University of Connecticut, a mineralogist who made major contributions to many areas of crystallography. 


The award presentation and Prof. Petsko's lecture is scheduled for Monday, July 27, 2015, at 8:00am.



Margaret Etter Early Career Award to Yan Jessie Zhang

Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Texas at Austin


Zhang received her Bachelor of Science from Tsinghuan University in 1997, working in the field of medicinal chemistry. She moved to the USA to gain a Master's degree from University of Oregon, in 2000, where she trained in crystallography with Brian Matthews. She earned a PhD in 2004 from the Scripps Institute, working in the laboratory of Ian Wilson on structure-based drug design. She then moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies to carry out her post-doctoral research on enzymes involved in transcription and oncogenic pathways, under the guidance of Joseph P. Noel. In the fall of 2008 she joined the University of Texas at Austin, where her main focus is to understand the mechanisms of transcriptional regulation and their impact in neuronal stem-cell differentiation.


Yan Jessie Zhang has already achieved many impressive milestones. As a grad student, she solved the crystal structure of the glycinamide ribonucleotide (GAR) formyltransferase, a fundamental enzyme in the purine biosynthesis pathway that is the target of several anti-cancer drugs. Zhang herself used the structural information she obtained from her crystallographic studies to design several potent inhibitors of this enzyme, one of which is currently in phase-1 clinical trials. During her post-doctoral research she began her studies on the RNA Polymerase II C-terminal domain (CTD), the protein that regulates the assembly of the transcriptional apparatus in Eukaryotes. Now, as an independent investigator at the University of Texas, Austin, she continues this line of research. Assembly of the transcriptional apparatus is regulated by the so-called "CTD code", a shape-encoded language linked to the conformational state of the RNA Polymerase II CTD and regulated through phosphorylation. Merging her broad expertise in eukaryotic transcription regulation, x-ray crystallography and structure-based drug design, Zhang is currently studying the phophatases that act on RNA Polymerase II CTD, to understand how their activities affect transcription, in particular in the context of cancer and neurogenesis. The final aim of her research is to design small molecules that could interfere with the function of these phosphatases and appropriately tune gene expression. As an example, she solved the structure of the phosphatase Scp1, involved in neural gene silencing, with a peptide representing its biological target and with a specific inhibitor called rabeprazole, providing a model for the development of new drugs that could potentially promote neuronal growth in patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.


This award, established in 2002, recognizes outstanding achievement and exceptional potential in crystallographic research demonstrated by a scientist at an early stage of their independent career. The award is established to honor the memory of Professor Margaret C. Etter (1943-1992), who was a major contributor to the field of organic solid-state chemistry


The award presentation and Prof. Zhang's lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, July 28, 2015, at 8:00am.