Squire Booker elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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13 April 2017

Squire J. Booker, professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jonathan Eaton, distinguished professor of economics, was also elected from Penn State.

The American Academy, one of the nation’s oldest honorary societies, is an independent policy research center with members from a wide range of disciplines. Members contribute to academy publications and studies of science and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts and education; and American institutions and the public good.

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 aureus evade entire classes of commonly used antibiotics. These results were published in three 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 2016, Booker received the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal, which recognizes scholarly or creative excellence through contributions around a coherent theme. In 2015, he was named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a science philanthropy organization dedicated to advancing biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. In 2014, Booker was 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, he was honored with an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award by the American Chemical Society. The award, which consists of a monetary prize and an unrestricted research grant is given "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 that are 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 17 graduate students, over 40 undergraduate students, 15 postdoctoral associates and research scientists, and two high-school students. He is known for encouraging students in underrepresented groups to consider science-based careers. Booker has published over 80 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, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

He is past-chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and was co-organizer of the society's 2016 annual meeting. He has delivered well over 100 lectures at universities and international meetings on his research, including several keynote lectures, such as the Lloyd N. Ferguson Distinguished Lectures at California State University, Los Angeles; the inaugural Diversity in Chemistry Initiative Lecture at the California Institute of Technology; the Scott Lecture at the University of Florida; the inaugural Diversity Lectures at Duke University; the Everson Lecture at the University of Wisconsin; and the TY Shen Lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 7 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.