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Squire Booker named Howard Hughes Medical Investigator

Squire Booker named Howard Hughes Medical Investigator

Squire J. Booker, professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University, has been named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. As one of 26 new HHMI investigators chosen from 894 applicants, Booker joins a group of scientists, including 17 Nobel laureates, widely recognized for their creativity and research accomplishment. The HHMI chooses investigators based on a "people, not projects" philosophy allowing its investigators the freedom to explore creative approaches to difficult biomedical problems. Booker will receive flexible support designed to enable him to move his research forward in creative new directions.

Booker’s main research interests include deciphering the molecular details by which enzymes -- a special class of proteins -- catalyze reactions in the cell. He then uses the insight gained to manipulate these reactions for various objectives, ranging from the production of biofuels to the development of antibacterial agents. His laboratory garnered international attention for elucidating a pathway by which disease-causing bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusevade entire classes of commonly used antibiotics. These results were published in two papers in the journal Science, a paper in Nature Chemical Biology, and two papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He is particularly well known for his research on enzymes employing extremely reactive molecules, known as free radicals, to catalyze their reactions.

In 2014, Booker was been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science. In 2011, Booker was honored with an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award. The award, which consists of a monetary prize and an unrestricted research grant, is given by the American Chemical Society "to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry." In 2004, Booker was recognized as one of 57 of the country's most promising scientists and engineers by President George W. Bush with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He received the award at the White House in recognition of his research on enzyme reactions, including his work on an enzyme involved in the synthesis of unusual fatty acids, which is needed by the bacteria responsible for most cases of tuberculosis. In 2002, he received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the agency's most prestigious award for new faculty members.

Booker has mentored 15 graduate students, over 35 undergraduate students, and two high-school students. He is known for encouraging students in underrepresented groups to consider science-based careers. Booker has published about 70 scientific papers in journals such as Science, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and he has served as guest editor for Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, Biochimica Biophysica Acta, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. He is past-chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of the American Association of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and is co-organizer of the society's 2016 annual meeting.

Booker earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Austin College in 1987, where he was a Minnie Stevens Piper Scholar, and a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. That same year he was awarded a National Science Foundation–NATO Fellowship for postdoctoral studies at Université Rene Décartes in Paris, France. Later, in 1996, he was awarded a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship for studies at the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1999.

HHMI was founded in 1953 by aviator and industrialist Howard R. Hughes. Through its philanthropy, HHMI empowers exceptional scientists and students to pursue fundamental questions about living systems.

 

[ SJS ]

Ben Lear receives Priestley Prize

Ben Lear receives Priestley Prize

Ben Lear, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has been selected to receive the 2014 Priestley Prize for Outstanding Teaching in Chemistry.

The prize will be formally given at the Chemistry Department commencement reception in May.

The Priestley Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in Chemistry is awarded annually to a faculty member in the Chemistry Department for excellence in undergraduate chemistry instruction.

The Priestley Prize was established in 2002 to recognize the best undergraduate teachers in the Chemistry Department as measured by the increase in learning and enthusiasm for the subject by the students in chemistry courses.

John Badding receives Faculty Scholar Medal

John Badding receives Faculty Scholar Medal

John Badding, Professor of Chemistry, has been selected to receive the 2015 Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal in Physical Science. Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of faculty peers reviews nominations and recommends candidates to Penn State's president.

The theme of the research in the Badding research lab is the use of pressure to synthesize or probe solid state materials.  They are interested in materials that have unusual micro or nano structure or chemical/physical behavior and often apply them to problems of significant technological interest.

Dan Sykes promoted to Senior Lecturer II

Dan Sykes promoted to Senior Lecturer II

Dan Sykes has been promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer II.

Dan joined the Penn State faculty in 2001. He earned his Ph. D. in 1990 from the University of Alberta.

Journal of Biological Chemistry podcast with Dr. Stephen Benkovic

Recently the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) did an interview with Dr. Stephen Benkovic (Chemistry Department), Andrew Patterson (Veterinary Department) and Hong Zhao (post doc, Benkovic group) regarding their JBC paper of the week on purinosomes.

If you are interested in listening to a podcast of the interview please visit http://www.jbc.org/site/podcast/.

Barbara Garrison and Nick Winograd receive Theodore E. Madey Award

Barbara Garrison and Nick Winograd have jointly been awarded the Theodore E. Madey Award by American Vacuum Society for their collaborative work on ion-surface interactions.  This biennial Award is named after Professor Theodore E. Madey, who had a distinguished history of scholarship and service to AVS, and who enjoyed a rich and fruitful relationship with the surface science community in Poland.

Chris Li receives Air Products Graduate Fellowship

Chris Li, a graduate student in Dr. Tom Mallouk's research group, has been chosen to receive an Air Products Graduate Fellowship.  This is a one year fellowship that includes a summer internship at Air Products.

Eric Popczun receives Rustum and Della Roy Innovation Award

Eric Popczun, a graduate student in Dr. Ray Schaak's research group, has been awarded the Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award.

Scott Phillips receives Arthur Findeis Award

Scott Phillips receives Arthur Findeis Award

Scott Phillips, Associate Professor of Chemistry, has been selected to receive the 2015 Arthur Findeis Award, sponsored by the Analytical Division of the American Chemical Society.  The purpose of the award is to recognize and encourage outstanding contributions to the fields of analytical chemistry by a young analytical scientist.

Mark Maroncelli named Distinguished Professor

Mark Maroncelli named Distinguished Professor

Mark Maroncelli has been named Distinguished Professor of Chemistry by President Barron.  To find out more about Mark and his research please visit his faculty page at: http://maroncelliweb.chem.psu.edu/.

Michael Green named AAAS Fellow

Michael Green named AAAS Fellow

Michael Green, Associate Professor of Chemistry, was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.  Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers.

Christine Keating named AAAS Fellow

Christine Keating named AAAS Fellow

Christine Keating, Professor of Chemistry, was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.  Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers.

Dana Hosko receives Gerald Wendt Award

Dana Hosko receives Gerald Wendt Award

Dana Hosko, Administrative Support Assistants in the chemistry department, received the 2014 Gerald Wendt Award for Excellence in Support of Research and Graduate Programs. This award was created by a donor who wished to recognize outstanding achievement by a chemistry staff member in support of research and graduate education. Dana will receive her award at the chemistry department awards reception on Thursday, December 4 on the Verne A. Willaman Gateway to the Sciences.

Sharon Devlin receives Gerald Wendt Award

Sharon Devlin, Administrative Support Assistants in the chemistry department, received the 2014 Gerald Wendt Award for Excellence in Support of Research and Graduate Programs. This award was created by a donor who wished to recognize outstanding achievement by a chemistry staff member in support of research and graduate education. Sharon will receive her award at the chemistry department awards reception on Thursday, December 4 on the Verne A. Willaman Gateway to the Sciences.

Washington Post article on Diamond Nanothreads

"The space elevator: Extreme science fiction that’s still a long way from science fact"
Washington Post

Smallest Possible Diamonds Form Ultra-thin Nanothreads

Smallest Possible Diamonds Form Ultra-thin Nanothreads

For the first time, scientists have discovered how to produce ultra-thin "diamond nanothreads" that promise extraordinary properties, including strength and stiffness greater than that of today's strongest nanotubes and polymers. A paper describing this discovery by a research team led by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, will be published in the 21 September 2014 issue of the journal Nature Materials.

"From a fundamental-science point of view, our discovery is intriguing because the threads we formed have a structure that has never been seen before," Badding said. The core of the nanothreads that Badding's team made is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure -- zig-zag “cyclohexane” rings of six carbon atoms bound together, in which each carbon is surrounded by others in the strong triangular-pyramid shape of a tetrahedron. "It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace," Badding said. "Because this thread is diamond at heart, we expect that it will prove to be extraordinarily stiff, extraordinarily strong, and extraordinarily useful."

The team's discovery comes after nearly a century of failed attempts by other labs to compress separate carbon-containing molecules like liquid benzene into an ordered, diamondlike nanomaterial. "We used the large high-pressure Paris-Edinburgh device at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to compress a 6-millimeter-wide amount of benzene -- a gigantic amount compared with previous experiments," said Malcolm Guthrie of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a coauthor of the research paper. "We discovered that slowly releasing the pressure after sufficient compression at normal room temperature gave the carbon atoms the time they needed to react with each other and to link up in a highly ordered chain of single-file carbon tetrahedrons, forming these diamond-core nanothreads."

Badding's team is the first to coax molecules containing carbon atoms to form the strong tetrahedron shape, then link each tetrahedron end to end to form a long, thin nanothread. He describes the thread's width as phenomenally small, only a few atoms across, hundreds of thousands of times smaller than an optical fiber, enormously thinner that an average human hair. "Theory by our co-author Vin Crespi suggests that this is potentially the strongest, stiffest material possible, while also being light in weight," he said.

The molecule they compressed is benzene -- a flat ring containing six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms. The resulting diamond-core nanothread is surrounded by a halo of hydrogen atoms. During the compression process, the scientists report, the flat benzene molecules stack together, bend, and break apart. Then, as the researchers slowly release the pressure, the atoms reconnect in an entirely different yet very orderly way. The result is a structure that has carbon in the tetrahedral configuration of diamond with hydrogens hanging out to the side and each tetrahedron bonded with another to form a long, thin, nanothread.

"It really is surprising that this kind of organization happens," Badding said. "That the atoms of the benzene molecules link themselves together at room temperature to make a thread is shocking to chemists and physicists. Considering earlier experiments, we think that, when the benzene molecule breaks under very high pressure, its atoms want to grab onto something else but they can’t move around because the pressure removes all the space between them. This benzene then becomes highly reactive so that, when we release the pressure very slowly, an orderly polymerization reaction happens that forms the diamond-core nanothread."

The scientists confirmed the structure of their diamond nanothreads with a number of techniques at Penn State, Oak Ridge, Arizona State University, and the Carnegie Institution for Science, including X-ray diffraction, neutron diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, first-principle calculations, transmission electron microscopy, and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Parts of these first diamond nanothreads appear to be somewhat less than perfect, so improving their structure is a continuing goal of Badding's research program. He also wants to discover how to make more of them. "The high pressures that we used to make the first diamond nanothread material limit our production capacity to only a couple of cubic millimeters at a time, so we are not yet making enough of it to be useful on an industrial scale," Badding said. "One of our science goals is to remove that limitation by figuring out the chemistry necessary to make these diamond nanothreads under more practical conditions."

The nanothread also may be the first member of a new class of diamond-like nanomaterials based on a strong tetrahedral core. "Our discovery that we can use the natural alignment of the benzene molecules to guide the formation of this new diamond nanothread material is really interesting because it opens the possibility of making many other kinds of molecules based on carbon and hydrogen," Badding said. "You can attach all kinds of other atoms around a core of carbon and hydrogen. The dream is to be able to add other atoms that would be incorporated into the resulting nanothread. By pressurizing whatever liquid we design, we may be able to make an enormous number of different materials."

Potential applications that most interest Badding are those that would be vastly improved by having exceedingly strong, stiff, and light materials -- especially those that could help to protect the atmosphere, including lighter, more fuel-efficient, and therefore less-polluting vehicles. "One of our wildest dreams for the nanomaterials we are developing is that they could be used to make the super-strong, lightweight cables that would make possible the construction of a "space elevator" which so far has existed only as a science-fiction idea," Badding said.

In addition to Badding at Penn State and Guthrie at the Carnegie Institution, other members of the research team include George D. Cody at the Carnegie Institution, Stephen K. Davidowski, at Arizona State, and Thomas C. Fitzgibbons, En-shi Xu, Vincent H. Crespi, and Nasim Alem at Penn State. Penn State affiliations include the Department of Chemistry, the Materials Research Institute, the Department of Physics, and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. This research received financial support as part of the Energy Frontier Research in Extreme Environments (EFree) Center, and Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (Office of Science award #DE-SC0001057).

Story by Barbara K. Kennedy

Mark Maroncelli receives ACS Hildebrand Award

Mark Maroncelli receives ACS Hildebrand Award

Mark Maroncelli,  Professor of Chemistry and the Associate Head for Undergraduate Education, has been selected to receive the 2015 National American Chemical Society Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical & Experimental Chemistry of Liquids.  This award is used to recognize distinguished contributions to the understanding of the chemistry and physics of liquids.  The award was established in 1980 in recognition of the scientific contributions of ACS Past President Joel H. Hildebrand.  The first award was presented to Dr. Hildebrand as part of the observances of his 100th birthday in November 1981.

Vinita Yadav receives Baxter Young Investigator Award

Vinita Yadav, a graduate student in Dr. Ayusman Sen's research group, has been selected to receive the Baxter Young Investigator Award.  This award program was developed to stimulate and reward research that can be directly used for critical care therapies and the development of medical products that save and sustain patients' lives.

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