Former PEF scientist awarded 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Joachim Frank was notified October 4 by the Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm that he had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with two other scientists. Frank is a former PEF member who worked at the state Health Department’s Wadsworth Center as recently as 1998 as a research scientist 8.
Frank became a senior research scientist in Wadsworth’s Division of Laboratories and Research in 1975 where he began researching electron microscopy of single particles. And in 1985 and ’86, he became a professor of biomedical sciences at SUNY Albany.
Born in Germany, Frank is now a U.S. citizen and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and of biological sciences at Columbia University in New York City. Earlier this year, Frank received the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences and in 2014 he was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science.
Frank, Jacques Dubochet of Switzerland and Richard Henderson of Scotland won the Nobel Prize for their work on inventing a way to better to capture the image of biomolecules. Through years of research they have developed a way to flash freeze water to create a thin, transparent layer of ice over a layer of liquid in which the molecules can be seen at ultrahigh resolution in their undistorted, natural shape. The method is called cryo-electron microscopy. Their invention solves the problem of getting the molecules to hold their shape while being held still for viewing.
Frank’s particular contribution to this process is his invention of a way to make three-dimensional pictures from the two-dimensional images seen by electron microscopes. He focused on developing the technique to see ribosomes, which are clusters of RNA and protein that are narrower than the wavelength of visible light.
Thanks to these three scientists and many others who collaborated with them and contributed to the research over the years, it will now be possible to view the atomic structure of biomolecules, which is at the heart of chemistry.
“We are very proud that Dr. Frank was a member of our union for many years,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “It’s far too easy for people who are unfamiliar with public employees to underestimate and dismiss their abilities and achievements. In winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Dr. Frank demonstrates the tremendous value of the services provided by public employees at Wadsworth and throughout the state. I understand that the research Dr. Frank conducted here provided key insights and discoveries that helped pave the way to this achievement. His work also benefitted from his collaborations with other scientists here. I congratulate him and I applaud all of our PEF scientists for the outstanding work they do.”