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A Distinguished Professor Raises His Profile Even Higher With a Nobel Prize

UAlbany distinguished professor Joachim Frank smiles.

When a phone call woke SUNY biophysicist Joachim Frank at 5:18 a.m. last week, he knew something was up. You see, normally, he and his wife are roused by their dog, he told Nobelprize.org.

The dog “wakes up very early in the morning,” said Frank, a professor of Columbia University in New York and a SUNY distinguished professor on the faculty of Biomedical Sciences, who shared his Nobel Prize for chemistry with Jacques Dubochet from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and Richard Henderson of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. “This time, it was the Nobel Prize. Normally, it is the dog that wakes us up.”

Frank was a senior research scientist and lab chief with the Wadsworth Center, which is affiliated with the University at Albany’s School of Public Health from 1975 to 2008. While with Wadsworth and UAlbany, he became an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and, in 2006, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He was named a SUNY distinguished Professor in 2007.

He’s now a winner of the 109th Nobel Prize for chemistry “developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution,” according to the Nobel Prize committee. Cryo-electron microscopy is a method for imaging molecules in three dimensions and, therefore, for enabling scientists to visualize proteins and other biological molecules at the atomic level.

Explaining this approach to his work, Frank told a Nobleprize.com interviewer that it helps that he is “very visually oriented. I see patterns. I see structures. I see patterns very, very fast.” Now other scientists and researchers can see them too.

Frank, who lives in New York City with his wife, Carol Saginaw, is also a photographer, even holding exhibitions of his work. His contributions to the prize-winning work, which began at Wadsworth at UAlbany, allow scientists to “see molecules in their free, unconstrained functional state.”

“We have a whole inventory of the molecular machine in its various states,” he said during the Nobel Prize interview.

Joachim Frank joins a list of other members of the SUNY community who have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Past SUNY Nobel Prize winners:

  • C.N. Yang, Nobel Prize in Physics (1957), Sir John Carew Eccles, Nobel Prize in Medicine (1963), Stony Brook University
  • Sir John Carew Eccles, Nobel Prize in Medicine (1963), University at Buffalo
  • Herbert A. Hauptman, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1985), University at Buffalo
  • Robert F. Furchgott, Nobel Prize in Medicine (1998), SUNY Downstate Medical Center
  • Ronald H. Coase, Nobel Prize in Economics (1991), University at Buffalo
  • J.M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize in Literature (2003), University at Buffalo
  • Paul Lauterbur, Nobel Prize in Medicine (2003), Stony Brook University
  • Robert Aumann, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2005), Stony Brook University

Header photo by Kevin Hagen, Getty

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  • Greg Scott says:

    Sincere congratulations to SUNY biophysicist and distinguished professor, Dr. Joachim Frank for Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) bestowed the greatest honor on him and researchers Dr. Jacques Dubochet and Dr. Richard Henderson for their outstanding work in developing cryo-electron microscopy. The scientists and researchers community in Modern biochemistry will always owe them great respect and gratitude for opening a wealth of opportunities in three dimensions visualization and imaging of biomolecules and biochemical processes. His long years of association with University at Albany’s School of Public Health is also commendable. It is also a proud moment for SUNNY that Dr. Joachim Frank has joined the list of past Sunny Nobel Prize winners.

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