Tag: chemistry

Nobel inspiration: Lawrence scientists, economists embrace new momentum

Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, stands beside a whiteboard showing some of her astrophysics research in Lawrence University’s Youngchild Hall of Science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

If you sensed a surge of excitement in recent days coming from the halls of Lawrence University’s Youngchild, Steitz, and Briggs halls, you were not mistaken.

When the Nobel Prizes for chemistry and physics were announced earlier this month, the news hit close to home for a couple of science faculty members and their students, creating momentum for the research they’ve been working on here at Lawrence.

The same can be said for a pair of economics faculty members who have focused their research on topics tied to the groundbreaking Poor Economics, a book that’s been a mandatory read in Lawrence’s Freshman Studies since 2016. More on that later.

The win in chemistry went to three chemists — Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough, and Akira Yoshino — who were instrumental 30 years ago in the development of the lithium-ion battery, which now powers many of our wireless electronics, most notably cell phones. That’s a subject near and dear to Allison Fleshman, an associate professor of chemistry who has dedicated much of her research over the past two decades to ion mobility, work that could potentially improve the next generation of those lithium batteries.

The win in physics, meanwhile, went to two astronomers — Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (they split the prize with a cosmologist on a separate project) — who in the mid-1990s discovered a fiery, uninhabitable planet orbiting a distant sun-like star, a breakthrough that set the course for the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy. Megan Pickett, an associate professor of physics, was fresh off her Ph.D. and working for NASA when word of the discovery came through. She has since spent much of her career studying the formation of those stars and planets, simulating how solar systems are formed.

Both Fleshman and Pickett drew inspiration early in their careers from the groundbreaking work these scientists were doing. To see them now honored with Nobels, well, there were celebrations in recent days to rival those of football fans on a Sunday afternoon.

“As soon as the Nobels were announced, my Facebook was a flutter with all of my old colleagues from graduate school and my post-doctoral work,” Fleshman said. “We were all very, very excited. There’s a subgroup of scientists, and we were just going absolutely bonkers when we heard. And I may have run through the hallway shouting, ‘lithium for the win.’”

Pickett had a similar response when the physics award was announced, not just because she was happy for Mayor and Queloz but also because of the momentum and validation it provides for the science she and her students are doing in Youngchild.

“I was wondering when this group would get the Nobel Prize,” she said.

How solar systems form

It was in 1995 when Mayor and Queloz first announced the discovery of the Jupiter-like planet, having tracked a periodic wobble in the colors of light from the star that indicated a planet was circling. They determined it to be a four-day orbit. Scientists at the time already believed there were planets other than Earth that were orbiting sun-like stars. But they had no proof. And then they did.

“The scientific community was skeptical, as it ought to be with new discoveries like this,” Pickett said. “There had been a lot of false discoveries and false alarms in the past. But this stood the test of time. And as people started using this method, more and more solar systems were found. We now know of 4,000 planets that orbit stars.”

Learn more about Physics at Lawrence here.

Pickett had just finished her Ph.D. at Indiana University earlier that year and was working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. She remembers hearing the news of the discovery like it was yesterday.

“I was in the space science research laboratory,” she said. “The entire floor that I was on, mostly theoretical astrophysicists, were running down the halls excited about this. Everyone at first was trying to show that it was wrong, but they were really excited. They were either excited one way or the other. If it was right, we would finally have proof that there were planets outside our solar system. And it turned out to be right.

“And it turned out to be the kind of stuff I was interested in studying. So, I was very lucky in terms of my career, being in the right place at the right time studying the right thing.”

Scientists now believe that the number of planets in our galaxy could number in the billions.

“Twenty years ago, or 25 years ago, you would have been laughed off the stage if you had said something like that,” Pickett said. “Now people are taking it very seriously based on the statistics we’ve seen.

Allison Fleshman, associate professor of chemistry, stands for a portrait in her lab in Lawrence University’s Steitz Hall of Science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The study of ions

Meanwhile, over in the Steitz chemistry labs, Fleshman and her students are busy talking about the charge that the Nobel announcement has given their work. They aren’t necessarily doing lithium battery research per se, but they’re studying a piece of the process that could affect the ongoing development of the battery technology. Fleshman has been doing research in and around that topic since her doctoral studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“Part of my Ph.D. was in developing a new way of describing ion transport, which is what this field of research is called,” Fleshman said. “Ion transport is how well the ions can move, or their mobility between two electrodes. If you have an electric field, how well can the ion adjust to responses in that electric field?”

Learn more about Chemistry at Lawrence here.

Keeping that and related research alive could one day lead to changing the electrolyte — the chemical medium that carries the positively charged lithium ions — from a liquid to a solid, eliminating potential issues related to leakage or expansion in the battery.

“That would be kind of like the Holy Grail,” Fleshman said. “That’s the next big thing. Until then, the idea is to improve the material that carries the charge. My students and I apply a new model to describing that transport.”

The Nobel for the lithium-ion battery is a momentum changer in part because it’s something people can relate to. They may not understand the science behind it, but they appreciate the rapid advances in the cell phone and other electronic tools that they can hold in their hands. The message from Fleshman is simple — we’re not done yet.

“Once it gets to the consumer’s hands I think people assume there is no more innovation to be made,” she said. Not true. While the Nobel award acknowledges that the work of Whittingham, Goodenough, and Yoshino was cutting edge, there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.

“If you’re in the field, you know these questions,” Fleshman said. “You know there are limitations with the electrolyte. There’s a misunderstanding about why lithium moves. There are misunderstandings of how lithium interacts with the electrolyte as a whole.”

The possibilities for the next generation of lithium batteries are just now being explored, and it’s more than just making our electronic toys run faster. The prospect of communities redirecting some of their energy usage in more sustainable ways is in play.

“The Nobel puts those questions on the international stage,” Fleshman said of the continued study of lithium technology. “I think it gets more people interested, people who thought the technology was basically at its end. We’ve made a lithium battery. It works great. My cell phone stays charged for forever. But there is so much more innovation to be had.

“There are really good scientists out there trying to answer the question of how can we redirect our energy demands to energies that are sustainable, and rewarding those scientists with a Nobel is yet another way of saying we need a global conversation about renewable energy sources,” Fleshman said.

The book on development economics

When the winner of the Nobel in economics was announced, you might have heard a smattering of applause across campus. The work of development economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of M.I.T. and Michael Kremer of Harvard is plenty familiar to students and faculty here. The 2011 book from Banarjee and Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, has been part of Freshman Studies since 2016, meaning most every current Lawrence student has dissected the book at some point over the past four years, or will next term.

Dylan Fitz
Hillary Caruthers

The book — and now the Nobel – has shined a light on the growing field of development economics. In this case, it’s the work of economists who zero in at the micro level in the study of poverty and other economic issues in developing countries, gathering and using specific on-the-ground data to analyze outcomes. Instead of taking a big picture view, they run real-world trials of local groups or communities to test how certain factors — be it in the areas of education, health care, food, family planning or others — are affecting the economics of a region.

Nowhere on the Lawrence campus was the applause for the Nobel louder than in the offices of Hillary Caruthers and Dylan Fitz, both assistant professors of economics who specialize in the micro approach to development economics. Both have counted the Poor Economics authors and Kremer as role models since their graduate school days a decade ago, even before the book was published.

“I do find it extremely validating,” Caruthers said of the Nobel announcement. “It’s exciting that when you look at all of the Nobel laureates going back through time, this is by far the closest to our research. So, it’s exciting to see people be honored who we have admired and who have inspired us in our field of study and have really shaped the field so much. It’s like seeing our idols rewarded for their work.”

Learn more about Economics at Lawrence here.

Caruthers and Fitz said they both were driven to pursue development economics on the micro level because it is so tightly tied to the people affected. It is analysis of open-ended micro data from individuals and households with an expectation that it’ll add to the larger economics conversation, and, in the end, help improve living conditions.

It’s not that the more macro approach to development economics isn’t valuable, Fitz said. It’s just the micro approach and what it can bring to the table is another important piece, and it’s what drew him to the field.

“The type of work in Poor Economics is why I’m an economist,” he said.

Some of the research done by Caruthers, for example, has focused on how poor nutrition in utero can affect someone through life. That touches on the same themes explored in Poor Economics, studying how early health care, or lack thereof, can have ramifications that affect one’s ability to ever escape poverty.

“Economics is a social science, of course, but often it’s easy to forget that we are ultimately interested in people and the well-being of humans,” Caruthers said. “So, de-emphasizing systems and instead emphasizing that micro impact is very appealing to me as a scholar.”

Poor Economics has been a great fit for Freshman Studies, introducing non-economics students to a part of the economics curriculum many don’t know exists.

“A lot of freshmen come in and they don’t know what economics is,” Fitz said. “Some of them think it is just business or just defending free markets, which is not at all the case. Economics is something that can help us make the world a better place — to try to understand the world first of all, and then to improve it for people.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

James Evans 1941-2018: Chemistry scholar, computing pioneer

Former Lawrence University chemistry and computer science professor James S. Evans died Monday, April 23 at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah. He was 77 years old.

James Evans
James Evans

Among the longest-serving faculty members in the history of the university, Professor Evans’ tenure spanned 45 years before his retirement in 2011.

A native of Bridgton, Maine, Jim joined the Lawrence faculty in 1966 as a 25-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bates College and a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry and physics from Princeton University. Jim arrived in Appleton with a three-year tenure track offer from then-Lawrence President Curtis Tarr.

Early in his career, Jim taught introductory chemistry courses, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry and Freshman Studies. He later added regular involvement with a distinctive honors-level Principles of Physics and Chemistry sequence. An active and engaged researcher, Jim’s research and scholarship focused on proteins, protein fragments and peptides.

Blaming an inability “to convincingly say no,” Jim began a 15-year stint of multitasking in 1979 when he traded some of his chemistry teaching duties for responsibilities as director of Lawrence’s emerging computer center. He provided leadership in bringing the power of computing into both the academic and administrative areas of the university.

Jim was a natural choice for the role, having already helped usher in the first computer-related teaching to the Lawrence curriculum and collaborating with members of the physics department on a laboratory computing course.

James Evans at 2011 commencement ceremonies
Jim Evans was recognized with an honorary master of arts degree at Lawrence’s 2011 commencement.

An interest in using computers beyond numerical work or signal processing also led Jim to write a text formatting program. With a physics colleague, he co-directed a multi-year (1979-82) National Science Foundation-funded project that focused on acquainting faculty members throughout the sciences and social sciences with computation. He also helped establish today’s interdisciplinary mathematics-computer science major and taught several courses in that major.

Among many professional accomplishments, Jim wrote two books, “Itanium Architecture for Programmers” and “Alpha RISC Architecture for Programmers.”

Beyond teaching chemistry and computer science, Jim served as an institutional “sidewalk superintendent,” assisting with the planning and execution of a variety of campus building projects, including the construction of Thomas Steitz Hall of Science and Hiett Hall and major remodeling projects in Main Hall and Youngchild Hall.

Late in his career, Jim served in an advisory capacity to the dean of the faculty, the vice president for business affairs and other offices and departments, helping develop institutional strategies involving technology.

Plans for a memorial service are still pending at this time.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Life of Professor Emeritus Robert Rosenberg celebrated in June 20 memorial service

A memorial service celebrating the life of Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and former Robert McMillen Professor of Chemistry Robert Rosenberg will be held Saturday, June 20 at 1 p.m. in the Nathan Marsh Pusey Room of the Warch Campus Center. Rosenberg died April 3 in Milwaukee at the age of 89.

Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Robert Rosenberg, 1926-2015.

Rosenberg’s son, Charlie, will deliver a eulogy while his daughter and grandchildren will share family memories.  Alumni and colleagues will offer reminiscences and musical preludes will feature some of Rosenberg’s favorite songs.

One of Lawrence’s most distinguished teachers, Rosenberg spent 35 years on the Lawrence faculty (1956-91). His work on the physical chemistry of proteins and chemical thermodynamics was supported by grants from the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and Research Corporation.

Well known and highly respected for being unfailingly courteous, Rosenberg encouraged his students to learn chemistry, often by designing their own experiments, gently leading and probing them to think creatively. He responded to their questions by asking more questions in turn to hone their analytical skills. His clear, patient explanations of equations describing complex physiochemical phenomena became legendary.

One of his students, Thomas Steitz, went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, an event Rosenberg said at the time had him “walking on air” with pride.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Virginia in 2013, and a son, James in 1994. He is survived by a son, Charles, Milwaukee, a daughter, Margaret (Eric) Wilde, Bronx, N.Y., and two grandchildren, Emma Wilde and Nathaniel Wilde.

The family has suggested memorial donations can be made in Rosenberg’s name to Lawrence University, the Nature Conservancy for the Fight for $15 campaign for fast food workers.

Read more about Rosenberg’s life and career.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.


Asthma Research Earns Michael Schreiber Invitation to 2010 Posters on the Hill Conference

Lawrence University senior Michael Schreiber has been selected to present his research on the mechanisms of common cold-induced asthma exacerbations Tuesday, April 13 at the 14th annual Posters on the Hill event at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Schreiber, a biochemistry and English major from West Allis, was one of only 80 undergraduate students from colleges and universities around the country chosen to share his research. Sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), the Posters on the Hill conference showcases the value of undergraduate research and strives to ensure future federal funding for new research.

“This is a great opportunity to highlight the excellent research we do at Lawrence and the wonderful sponsors of that research, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the McNair Foundation and of course Lawrence itself,” said David Hall, associate professor of chemistry and Schreiber’s academic advisor. “Michael’s research is built upon insights garnered by previous Lawrence student researchers over the past eight years. Continued funding at all levels will ensure many more undergraduates will have top quality research experiences.”

Student presenters for the Posters on the Hill conference are selected on the basis of a submitted abstract of their research conducted in any of CUR’s divisions: biology, chemistry, arts and humanities, social sciences, psychology, mathematics/computer sciences, physics/astronomy and geosciences.

Schreiber’s research, in the chemistry division, investigates the function of compounds called G-proteins, which function as molecular switches in certain cells of the immune system. They play a role in turning on the inflammatory response to cold virus in the lungs. The poster is based upon a submitted article to the journal Innate Immunity co-authored by Schreiber, Bryce Schuler, a 2009 Lawrence graduate and Hall.

While in Washington, Schreiber will participate in a reception in which each of the submitted posters will be displayed for members of Congress, federal funding agencies and other area foundations.

2009 Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Steitz to Deliver Lawrence University’s 2010 Commencement Address

Nobel Prize-winner Thomas Steitz will return to his alma mater to deliver the commencement address at Lawrence University’s graduation ceremonies June 13, 2010.

Tom-Steitz_web.jpgSteitz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lawrence in 1962, was named one of three winners of the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry Oct. 7 for his research describing the structure and function of ribosomes. He will receive his Nobel Prize medal Dec. 10 during ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We are delighted and honored that our distinguished alumnus is making a visit to Lawrence part of his extremely busy schedule,” said Lawrence President Jill Beck. “We look forward to welcoming Dr. Steitz back to campus in June. The seniors in the Class of 2010 should have a very exciting commencement ceremony.”

In a letter to President Beck, Steitz said he would rearrange plans to be in Europe so he could attend the June exercises.

“I have decided that it is very important for me to accept your invitation for next spring’s commencement,” Steitz wrote. “My years at Lawrence were of such great importance to me and my life and I feel I must pay tribute to Lawrence.”

Steitz credits his Lawrence education for setting him “on the right path.”

“It gave me an appreciation about how to think about answering questions,” said Steitz. “I was taught how to put things together, how to integrate information. I think that has been an important contributor all along.”

The Nobel Prize recognized Steitz’ decades-long research on the structure and function of the ribosome, which transforms encoded DNA information into proteins central to all of life’s functions. To determine its structure, he used the technique known as X-ray crystallography to map the position of each of the more than 100,000 individual atoms that make up the ribosome. His research has helped scientists develop new generations of antibiotics.

A native of Milwaukee and a graduate of Wauwatosa High School, Steitz is the Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and professor of chemistry at Yale University, where he has taught since 1970. He also is an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

After graduating cum laude from Lawrence, Steitz earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Yale faculty, Steitz worked at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

Earlier this month, Lawrence announced it would rename its newest science building “Thomas Steitz Science Hall” in honor of the Nobel Prize-winning alumnus.

Lawrence University Honors Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Steitz by Renaming Science Building

Since its opening nine years ago, Lawrence University’s newest academic building has been known simply as Science Hall. But it soon will bear the name of Lawrence’s 2009 Nobel Prize winner, Thomas Steitz.

Lawrence President Jill Beck has announced that the college’s Board of Trustees, at its recent fall meeting, voted unanimously to rename Science Hall as “Thomas Steitz Science Hall.” The building’s new name honors the 1962 Lawrence graduate who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry Oct. 7 for his research that revealed the structure and function of ribosomes.

An official renaming ceremony will be held at a date to be determined.

Tom-Stetiz2_web.jpg“This is a fitting way for Lawrence to recognize one of our most distinguished graduates, by naming for Dr. Steitz the facility in which our current students are learning cutting-edge science,” said Beck. “His dedication and accomplishments serve as inspiration to all of our young, aspiring scientists. Having the building they learn and conduct research in bear his name will motivate them to consider all that is possible in their own careers.”

The naming announcement is especially fitting since Steitz was the invited keynote speaker for the building’s official dedication ceremonies in October 2000.

“I was truly amazed to hear from President Beck that Lawrence is going to name its new science building after me,” said Steitz, a Milwaukee native who graduated from Wauwatosa High School. “This is, indeed, a great honor from a university to which I owe so much.”

Steitz is the Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and professor of chemistry at Yale University, where he has taught since 1970. He also is an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His Nobel Prize honored his decades-long research on the structure and function of the ribosome, which transforms DNA into proteins central to life functions.

After graduating cum laude from Lawrence with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Steitz earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Yale faculty, Steitz worked at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

The building name is just the latest accolade for Steitz from his alma mater. In 1981, Lawrence awarded Steitz an honorary doctorate of science degree and recognized him with its Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002.

Finished in 2000 after two years of construction, the $18.1 million, 78,000-square-foot science building is home to Lawrence’s molecular science programs. It is the largest academic building on Lawrence’s 84-acre campus.

The building’s first two floors house the chemistry department, while the third floor is devoted to the biology department. A bridge through the building’s distinctive 30-foot glass atrium connects the third floor to adjacent Youngchild Hall, providing the biology department with a contiguous space on the top floor of two separate buildings. The lower level features two advanced research laboratories in physics, a radioisotope wet lab for use by both the biology and chemistry departments and a world-class electron microscopy suite.

Lawrence University Graduate Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry

APPLETON, WIS. — Thomas Steitz, a 1962 graduate of Lawrence University, has been named one of three recipients of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today.

Steitz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Yale University, is the first Lawrence graduate ever to win a Nobel Prize.

Thomas Steitz

Steitz, along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science, were recognized for their research on the structure and function of the ribosome.

In announcing this year’s Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, the Royal Swedish Academy cited the three scientists for their work that shows what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level. All three have employed x-ray crystallography, a method that maps the position for each of the hundreds of thousands of atoms that make up the ribosome.

Steitz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Lawrence, uses the methods of x-ray crystallography and molecular biology to establish the structures and mechanisms of the proteins and nucleic acids involved in gene expression, replication, and recombination. In x-ray crystallography, protein crystals are bombarded with intense x-ray beams. As the x-rays pass through and bounce off of atoms in the crystal, they leave a diffraction pattern, which can then be analyzed to determine the three-dimensional shape of the protein.

According to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Web site, an understanding of the ribosome’s innermost workings is important for a scientific understanding of life. Many of today’s antibiotics cure various diseases by blocking the function of bacterial ribosomes. Without functional ribosomes, bacteria cannot survive. A better understanding of ribosomes is crucial for the development of new antibiotics.

While research on ribosome function has been conducted for 50 years, generating massive amounts of information, no group has succeeded in creating an accurate three-dimensional map until now.

“Our previous maps of the 50S subunit at nine- and five-Ångström resolution gave us some hints at the structure, but not until we achieved the 2.5-Ångström resolution could we resolve the atomic structure of all 100,000 atoms that are well ordered in the crystal,” said Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Professor of Chemistry at Yale University. “This structure is about four times larger than any other such structure that has ever been determined, and the 3,000 nucleotides of RNA increased the amount of known RNA structure by about 4 to 5 fold.”

According to Steitz, the process of achieving such high resolution meant painstakingly improving the process of growing larger, more complete ribosome crystals, and solving structures of those crystals at progressively higher resolution. Each lower-resolution map provided information that could help the scientists understand the ultimate high-resolution map, he said. The high-resolution structure offered a pathway to far deeper understanding of the protein-assembling machinery.

“We’re certainly not done with the scientific challenges presented by the ribosome,” said Steitz. “Although I must say I do feel as if we’re standing on Mount Everest at the moment and I’m now looking to find K2.”

– excerpted from Howard Hughes Medical Institute Web site

Robert Rosenberg, professor emeritus of chemistry at Lawrence was Steitz’ academic advisor. He remembered him as a student with an unusually high-degree of curiosity.

“He was very inquiring, more so than most students,” said Rosenberg, who said he was “thrilled” at Steitz’ latest recognition.

“I’ve been hoping for this for years,” said Rosenberg, who has remained close to Steitz over the past four decades. “For a while I thought it wouldn’t happen, because they had awarded Nobel Prizes to several x-ray crystallographers over the years and I thought they may have exhausted the list.

The Nobel Prize is the latest in a long list of awards Steitz has received during his distinguished career. Among his many other honors are the Pfizer Prize from the American Chemical Society, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for distinguished work in basic medical sciences, the 2001 Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the 2006 Keio Medical Science Prize and the prestigious 2007 Gairdner International Award.

Lawrence awarded Steitz an honorary doctorate of science degree in 1981 and recognized him with its Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002. Steitz served as the keynote speaker at dedication ceremonies in 2000 of Lawrence’s Science Hall.

After earning his bachelor’s degree at Lawrence, Steitz earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry at Harvard University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology.

Dr. Steitz was the commencement speaker at Lawrence University on June 13, 2010.  That same weekend, Science Hall was renamed the Thomas A Steitz hall of Science.

Lawrence University Biochemist Awarded NIH Stimulus Grant for Asthma Research

APPLETON, WIS. — A Lawrence University researcher has been awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health to support his research on asthma.

David Hall, associate professor of chemistry, will receive $30,824 from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases division to fund four additional summer research students in 2009. This latest grant supplements a previous NIH grant for $206,000 Hall received in 2006 initiate his current project.

Hall’s research examines the mechanisms by which rhinovirus, better known as the common cold, activates immune cells known as macrophages, leading to the exacerbation of asthma. Previous studies have identified immune cells as playing an important role in increasing the severity of irritation of the respiratory system during an asthma attack, but the details of the role of macrophages are still very poorly understood.

“During an asthma attack, the cold virus causes an asthmatic’s lung muscles to spasm, restricting air flow and the person’s ability to breathe,” said Hall, a biochemist who specializes in viruses and the immune system. “What this research is trying to understand is the mechanism by which the common cold triggers these attacks. This is a unique way to approach the problem and hopefully will lead to new avenues of treatment for asthma.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16.2 million adults and 6.7 million children are afflicted with asthma. In 2006 (the most recent year figures are available), asthma-related problems resulted in nearly 11 million doctor visits and accounted for more than 3,600 deaths.

The NIH grant will expand to eight the total number of students working on this problem in Hall’s laboratory this summer and also will provide $4,000 for research supplies and equipment.

“This grant gives our students a fantastic opportunity to do real world research with the potential to make a significant impact on a serious health problem, said Hall. “It’s also a springboard for stimulating student curiosity in basic science and exploring why things happen the way they do.”

Two of Hall’s current research assistants, senior Bryce Schuler and junior Michael Schreiber, were among 20 students representing 100 universities and colleges who were recognized with honors at the recent American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting in New Orleans for research they presented on the role the rhinovirus plays in the exacerbation of asthma.

Hall’s grant is supported by funds provided to NIH through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which as signed into law by President Obama in February with the purpose of stimulating the American economy through job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, and other means.

The Recovery Act provides NIH with $10.4 billion to be invested over the next two years into accelerating biomedical research and training greater numbers of future science researchers and teachers.