Petra Fromme receives highest faculty honor

Thu, 2015-12-03

Petra Fromme, the Paul V Galvin Professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the School of Molecular Sciences, has been named Regent's Professor. Regents' Professor is the highest faculty honor and goes to full professors from one of the three Arizona public universities whose exceptional achievements have brought them national or international distinction. Fromme was nominated by ASU President Michael Crow and approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.

Fromme, who has pioneered the study of membrane proteins, came to ASU in 2002 from the Technical University of Berlin, and was drawn by the university's commitment to innovation. She said that her German colleagues were surprised when she chose ASU over two offers to become department chair of biophysics in Germany. "I turned them down to come to ASU and they could not understand it, why I would want to go to the middle of the desert," she said." I was attracted to ASU because of the unique, innovative and interdisciplinary research environment, which let my research further thrive beyond what would have ever been possible at any other university in Germany or the US."

Fromme is a world expert on proteins and has been a pioneer in using new technology to determine their molecular structures. Her discoveries and innovative research methods, which incorporate aspects of both physics and engineering, will potentially lead to new drugs to fight deadly diseases and new methods of creating clean energy.

Fromme directs the Center for Membrane Proteins in Infectious Diseases at ASU and was part of an international team of researchers who demonstrated the first use of X-ray Free Electron Lasers to determine the three-dimensional structure of a protein. In 2012, the journal Science cited the team's research as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of the year.

Fromme also is director of the new Center for Applied Structural Discovery at the Biodesign Institute, where 12 faculty and students from different disciplines work together on innovative projects to understand the structure and dynamics of proteins, potentially leading to improved manmade technologies.

Fromme has over two hundred publications in major scientific journals. Last year she was the leader of an international team and senior author of a paper in the prestigious journal Nature that showed how X-ray laser technology can be used to obtain an atom level description of the very first moments photosynthesis in action, as it splits water into protons, electrons and oxygen. "This study is the first step towards our ultimate goal of unraveling the secrets of water splitting and obtaining molecular movies of biomolecules," said Fromme.

"Each time we work on novel ideas that have never been formulated before, other scientists say it's impossible until we show it's possible," said Fromme.

In receiving this honor, Fromme joins Austen Angell, Peter Buseck, Ana Moore, Tom Moore, Stuart Lindsay, Bob Pettit, all Regents' professors in the School of Molecular Sciences. Devens Gust, Carleton Moore and Mike O'Keefe are Emeritus Regents' professors.


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