Audio file: "Bounce" by Stephen Sondheim




Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics UNC Chapel Hill

Short Biography

trained as a macromolecular X-ray crystallographer and my research has contributed broadly to structural biology; experimental design; mechanistic enzymology—energetic coupling within proteins; bioinformatics; and evolutionary biology—the origin of genetic coding.

Mechanistic enzymology provided a natural trajectory, and recently has morphed into a broader interest in long-range allosteric communication and its role in catalysis. My interest in early molecular evolution blossomed into a small cottage industry, using what we call Urzymology (Ur = primitive, original + enzyme) to develop experimental models for long-extinct ancestral catalysts. That work opened the path to in-depth pursuit of the origin of genetic coding.

I graduated from Yale University with the Class of 1967, with whom I remain in close contact via our google discussion group. My PhD is in Biology  (1972) from UCSD for work with the crystallographer Joseph Kraut on the first crystal structure of an iron-sulfur protein containing the Fe4S4 cubane structure. Postdoctorate: Cambridge, England with Aaron Klug at the Medical Research Council Lab of Molecular Biology. Sabbatical leaves in 1986-7 with Gérard Bricogne (LURE, Orsay; supported by an NIH Fogarty Fellowship and in 2010 with Marc Delarue (Institut Pasteur; supported by a Fulbright Fellowship)  greatly stimulated my more mathematical and computational interests complementary to my research interests in Chapel Hill. UNC Annual Leave Grants also supported both visits to France, where I have a secondary spiritual home.

What else?

I love winter sports, especially snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The rest of the year, I try to play both tennis and golf with limited success. I loved playing squash while I had partners at UNC. I’m outspoken in politics and my views are quite far left.

My wife, Valerie and I have two grown daughters, one in Chicago and one in Dallas. Both graduated on the same day from the Chicago Art Institute and remain active artists.

For many years I was a docent with the American Dance Festival summer program in Durham, NC. My interest in modern dance is long-standing and I once engaged a choreographer to help me build a suite of solo dances to illustrate aspects of how catalysis of nucleotide triphosphate hydrolysis allows conservation of the hydrolysis free energy and transduction into mechanical work. I performed a dress rehearsal at the Chicago Art Institute with my daughter, Emily and performed it at the annual banquet of the American Crystallographic Association in Covington KY in 2002, when I was Past President. A video of a reprise performed at the Triangle Biophysics Conference in Durham is available with a longer commentary here