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Frances Arnold, who shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry,
delivers the 2019 Edward G. Jefferson Lecture in UD’s Mitchell Hall.
The Nobel Prize organization announces the newest recipients of its prestigious awards each year in October and presents the new laureates their medals at an elaborate ceremony in December.
But at UD this year, April has been notable for a kind of Nobel celebration of its own.
In a coincidence of timing, three Nobel laureates are speaking on campus during the month at separate events, providing the opportunity for students, faculty, staff and the public to hear from and interact with some of the world's most renowned scientists.
The laureates are delivering a total of four lectures and are taking other opportunities to meet with members of the University community.
Frances Arnold, 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Breeding racehorses is an art. Breeders combine science, mathematics and experience to select a sire and mare they think have the best chance at delivering an offspring with the goods to perform against even the toughest competitor.
According to Frances Arnold, breeding enzymes — the biological muscle that helps catalyze complex reactions necessary for life — is a bit like that, too.
Arnold, who delivered the 2019 Edward G. Jefferson Lecture on April 10 at UD, shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering ways to evolve proteins (long chains of amino acids essential for living organisms) to perform functions not found in nature.
It was work she started early in her career as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology that has led to new families of proteins that speed up chemical reactions. These biocatalysts are environmentally friendly, enabling laboratories and companies to make products such as medicines, biofuels and laundry detergent in more sustainable ways.
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Frances Arnold (top right) meets with UD graduate students to talk about big ideas in the future of scientific research.
Today, Arnold is focused on sustainable chemistry,
using chemistry and highly efficient biological systems to replace
expensive or toxic materials currently used to make things in our daily
lives. She's keen to go beyond where nature has gone, too, and she's
eager for traveling companions.
Already she's added two elements to the biological periodic table. The rest is up to others.
just scratched the surface," she said. "Look at the biological world
with the eyes of a chemist. You, too, can see the inherent racehorse
capabilities of proteins and use this simple process to draw these
Prior to her lecture, Arnold met with seven UD
doctoral students. After brief introductions she asked, "Everyone wants
to know what's the future — that's you. What do you think is the most
exciting area of science?"
At first the room was quiet. This was a
Nobel laureate asking, after all. But slowly an engaging conversation
emerged. The answers were as varied as their voices: Immunology.
Personalized medicine. Big data. Genome editing. Epigenetics.
advent of wearable technology that can be accessible to a lot of
different people offers ways for preventative, rather than
treatment-based, medicine," said Danielle Valcourt, who is working on
engineering nanoparticles to treat triple-negative breast cancer as part
of Assistant Professor Emily Day's biomedical engineering lab.
wearables you can have better information tracking, and with big data
you can start to see patterns in things like blood pressure that might
drive early intervention."
Wally Drake pointed to the potential
use of CRISPR technology, specially designed strands of DNA some call
"molecular scissors," to enable scientists to edit cell lines in order
to add immunity against genetic diseases. Drake works with Assistant
Professor Catherine Grimes in the chemistry and biochemistry department.
about preventative medicine. That's about the earliest preventative
stage, to use CRISPR to edit out the gene," added his lab colleague
Arnold encouraged the students to look
across disciplines and consider ways to combine powerful new
technologies — data analysis, artificial intelligence, machine learning —
to solve problems.
An elected member of all three National
Academies (science, engineering and medicine), Arnold speaks from
experience. Her research group is a mix of chemists, engineers and
computer scientists. "It helps to change fields a lot," she said.
To read more about Arnold's lecture, see this article.
Joseph Taylor discovered a new type of orbiting neutron star in 1974.
Picture a bucket half filled with water. A single raindrop falls in.
one way the sound was described after scientists directly detected
gravitational waves for the first time in 2015 — exactly a century after
Albert Einstein had predicted these ripples in the space-time fabric of
Researchers converted the signal from its initial
recording as a light pattern into sound. They said it sounded like a
heartbeat or, using a different frequency, a chirp, and they dubbed it
The path that led from 1915, when Einstein
presented his theory, to the detection by the Laser Interferometer
Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) was filled with twists and turns,
some dead ends and countless scientific discoveries, said Joseph Taylor,
professor emeritus at Princeton University. Among those critical
discoveries was one he made in 1974 that earned him the 1993 Nobel Prize
On Wednesday, April 24, Taylor will trace that 100-year journey from theory to detection for an audience at UD.
talk, "From Einstein's Theory to Gravity's Chirp," will be given at
7:30 p.m. in Clayton Hall on UD's Newark campus. Designed for a
general-interest audience, the Harcourt Vernon Lecture is sponsored by
the Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Greenville, Delaware, in partnership with the University's Delaware Asteroseismic Research Center and the Mount Cuba Foundation.
The lecture is free and open to the public, but space is limited; please register at this website.
of Taylor's lecture will concern his Nobel Prize-winning discovery,
with research student and co-laureate Russell Hulse, of a new type of
orbiting pulsar. Pulsars, which are rotating neutron stars that emit
pulses of radiation at regular intervals, are observed on Earth as beams
Using a radio telescope, Taylor and Hulse searched for
pulsars and in 1974 discovered the first binary pair orbiting each
other. Studying the pair over the next several years, scientists found
indirect proof of the existence of gravitational waves as predicted by
When LIGO detected those waves in 2015, it was the final proof that binary black holes exist and can merge, physicists said.
was a research fellow at Harvard and taught at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, before joining the Princeton faculty in 1980. He
is co-author of the book Pulsars. His awards, in addition to the Nobel Prize, include a MacArthur Fellowship, the Wolf Prize and the Einstein Prize.
Craig Mello discovered a mechanism that can silence a gene's expression.
much the same way that we need specific pieces of information among the
vast amounts of data on the internet, each of our cells uses only a
small fraction of the 30,000 genes that make up the human genome.
The key to the selection process in both cases? A good search engine.
the case of cells, that search engine is known as RNA interference, or
RNAi, a mechanism that can "silence" the expression of a particular
gene. Its discovery in 1998 earned Craig C. Mello and Andrew Fire the
2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Mello, now an
investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a faculty
researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will be at
UD April 23-24 to deliver two talks on different subjects related to
On Tuesday, April 23, Mello will give the
2019 Arnold Clark Lecture in the Department of Biological Sciences. The
talk, which is free and open to the public, begins at 5 p.m. in the Wolf
Hall auditorium and will be followed by a reception.
In the lecture, "RNA-Guided Inheritance in C. elegans," Mello will discuss the research his lab does using the nematode C. elegans
as a model system to study gene silencing. Since his 1998 discovery,
RNAi has been widely used in basic science as a method to study the
function of genes and as a research tool in biology and biomedicine.
On Wednesday, April 24, Mello will be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Delaware Life Science Forum,
an event designed to bring together UD research scientists — students,
faculty, staff and postdocs — with industry scientists and
Mello's talk at that event will focus on the use of basic science findings to design new therapeutics.
forum will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the STAR Tower Audion on
UD's STAR campus. Registration, which includes lunch, is $50 for
industry participants, $25 for those from academia and $15 for postdocs
and students. Register at this website.
is the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and co-founder of
the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts
Medical School. In his role with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute he
is chair of the national advisory committee that awards the prestigious
Pew Biomedical Scholars Award. During his visit to UD, Mellor plans to
meet with the University's three Pew Scholars: Catherine Grimes, April
Kloxin and Salil Lachke.
Article by Karen Roberts and Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape and courtesy of Joseph Taylor and Craig Mello