Caltech Professor Dr. Frances H. Arnold: Fifth Woman to Receive Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Dr. Frances H. Arnold, an American professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, recently earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 for her pioneering work in directed evolution. She shared half of the prize, worth nearly $1 million, with Dr. George P. Smith of the University of Missouri and Dr. Gregory P. Winter of the MRC Laboratory in Cambridge, England, who split the other half.
According to e New York Times, Dr. Arnold won for her work conducting the directed evolution of enzymes, proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. She first pioneered the bioengineering method, which works similar to the way dog breeders mate specific dogs to bring out desired traits, in the early 1990s, and has refined it since then. Her enzymes have been used to make biofuels, medicines and laundry detergent, among other things. In many processes, they have taken the place of toxic chemicals.
Dr. Arnold, who started as a mechanical engineer and moved into biology, said in an interview with NobelPrize.org she thinks of what she does as copying nature’s design process. “All this tremendous beauty and complexity of the biological world all comes about through this one simple, beautiful design algorithm,” she said. “I was able to look at the problem with a totally a fresh set of eyes. A problem that had challenged people since the techniques were – of site-directed mutagenesis, for example, which won the Nobel Prize – were available. And I realized that the way that most people were going about protein engineering was doomed to failure.”
In the Q&A, her response to a comment on her “radically” jumping from mechanical engineering to protein engineering was, “Oh, well, I have four brothers, and I’ve jumped into all sorts of things over my life. So, learning new things has always been fun for me. Changing fields has been fun, and I still feel that way many years later.”
Dr. Arnold is the fifth woman in history to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. According to research compiled by compoundchem.com, the previous women who have won are: Marie Curie (1911); Irène Joliot-Curie (1935); Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1964): and Ada E. Yonath (2009).
Frances H. Arnold, born on July 25, 1956 in Pittsburgh, earned her Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of California, Berkeley. At the California Institute of Technology, she is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry and Bioengineering Director, Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Her research includes protein engineering, directed protein evolution, structure-guided protein recombination, biocatalysi and biofuels.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. Arnold has received numerous accolades. Her select awards and honors since 2000 include: NAS Sackler Prize in Convergence Research (2017); Millennium Technology Prize (2016); Honorary doctorate U. Chicago (2016) and ETH Zurich (2015); National Inventors Hall of Fame (2014); Doctorate honoris causa, Stockholm University (2013); ENI Prize in Renewable and Nonconventional Energy (2013); National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011); Charles Stark Draper Prize (2011); American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011); Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2010); Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology (2009); National Academy of Sciences (2008); Linnaeus Lecturer, Uppsala University (2008); Cruickshank Lecturer, Gordon Research Conferences (2008);FASEB Excellence in Science Award (2007); Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal, ACS (2005); Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2004); David Perlman Lecture Award, ACS (2003); and National Academy of Engineering (2000)