2020 ACA Annual Meeting Award Winners

The ACA recognizes distinguished achievement in the field of crystallography to both mature and early career crystallographers through the presentation of various annual awards and prizes.  

Margaret C. Etter Early Career Award 2020: Nozomi Ando

Nozomi Ando is the recipient of the 2020 Margaret Etter Early Career Award, an award given "to recognize outstanding achievement and exceptional potential in crystallographic research demonstrated by a scientist at an early stage of their independent career." Nozomi is often referred to as fearless, unafraid of tackling difficult biophysical problems that are well out of the mainstream if they have the potential to provide insight about protein function and stability. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University where her laboratory works at the interface of chemical biology, structural biology and physical chemistry, studying enzymes using non-conventional x-ray techniques. For instance, her current studies are on using diffuse scatter to study protein allostery. Nozomi earned a B.S in Physics at MIT and a PhD in Physics at Cornell University. Her goal was to answer fundamental questions about protein stability using new tools and technologies and her work focused on the design of instrumentation for use in high-pressure biological studies using small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS).

With a solid background in physics, Nozomi sought to learn more about chemistry and biochemistry to gain a broader understanding of protein structure/ function relationships. To do so, she joined Catherine Drennan's laboratory at MIT for her post-doctoral studies. Here Nozomi's main emphasis was on ribo­nucleotide reductases (RNRs) and the relationship between oligomeric state structure and enzymatic activity. It was in this large and collaborative project that her leadership skills shone.

It was in the Drennan laboratory that Nozomi carried out the mentored phase of her prestigious NIH K99 Pathway to Independence Award; her independent career - developing a comprehensive program to study the structural basis of protein allostery- started at Princeton University. She was then awarded a highly-respected five-year Maximizing Investigators' Research Award from NIGMS. Last year Cornell Uni­versity was able to attract her.

Nozomi's group is one of the first to successfully ana­lyze diffuse x-ray scattering on protein crystals and provide information on not just average structure but also on correlated molecular motions. Nozomi is also applying other types of novel x-ray scattering experi­ments to understand protein conformational change and dynamics. In this latter work, she has developed novel computational tools to analyze SAXS data from complex systems.

Nozomi is highly regarded in the field. Indeed, as a junior faculty member she was solicited to write a Chemical Reviews article on the future of biophysics and it was heralded by Chemical Reviews as the best review of the year. She is a visionary and her efforts represent the future of crystallography and x-ray dif­fraction.


David J. Rognlie Award 2020: James M. Holton

James Holton, a Scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Bioimaging division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) and Full Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, is the 2020 recipient of the ACA’s David J. Rognlie Award. This award is awarded “to recognize an exceptional discovery of technical development of particularly high impact in … structural science.” James is being honored to recognize his work in the development of the beamline 8.3.1 at the advanced light source (ALS) in the LBNL, one of the most productive beamlines, in terms of both publication number and impact, in the world. He is one of the most insightful proponents, designers and visionaries of synchrotron beamline development. The innovations that James has designed, built and installed have always been carried out with the goal of optimizing the process of data collection.

James’ doctoral dissertation reported the first-ever, fully-automated solution of a previously unsolved protein structure. In order to carry out this structure determination, James single-handedly wrote a computer program called ELVES which has continued to be the core structure-solving program at the 8.3.1 beamline. He has optimized the process of data collection by incorporating a robot to mount pins, a touch screen for centering crystals, automated data backup, seamless data processing interfaces and a highly intuitive control system. His interests have grown to addressing the question: Why do so many structure determinations at the beamline fail? He has revealed the bottlenecks in x-ray crystallography by archiving, curating and analyzing all the data collected at his beamline. This has resulted in a number of key practical insights, one of them being the predictability of radiation damage to macromolecular crystals. James’ vision, now realized, is for users to find answers to critical questions during data collection when there is time to revise plans to make the best use of beam-time rather than after lesser quality data have been collected.

James has made numerous pioneering contributions to the synchrotron experience, starting with a vision for optimizing all aspects of data collection to structure determination and developing and implementing novel hardware and software solutions. His software developments allow users to solve problems concurrent with data collection, not after leaving the beamline. James is generous colleague who has done much to educate beamline users.


A. L. Patterson Award 2020: Vaclav Petricek

Vaclav Petricek, Senior Scientist at the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, is the recipient of the ACA’s 2020 A. L. Patterson Award. This award is given “to recognize and encourage outstanding research in the structure of matter by diffraction methods, including the methodology of structure determination …” Over the course of his career, Vaclav’s research has made him the leader in the field of analysis of incommensurately modulated crystals. Through his work a good percentage of aperiodic crystals, the so-called incommensurately modulated structures, can now be determined with accuracy comparable to what one can achieve for ordinary periodic structures.

Vaclav has spent essentially his whole career at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences as a researcher. A post-doctoral position with Philip Coppens at the State University of New York, Buffalo, helped shape the direction of his research. Until the seventies the existence of aperiodic crystals was considered rare but now it is known that incommensurate crystals occur in all kinds of materials. One of the breakthroughs that made the quantitative characterization of incommensurately modulated structure accessible to the wider community of crystallographers was the development of computational tools for the practical application of the theoretical superspace formalism to the analysis and determinations of incommensurate structures. It was Vaclav who developed the necessary tool that made a good theory work in practice, and this tool is the program JANA. Over 25 years he has continued to introduce many options which have made this computing system useful in solving periodic and aperiodic crystals. The latest version of JANA also supports powder diffraction data, simultaneous refinement against various data sets (powders, single crystals) and radiation sources (x-rays, neutrons, electrons), Time-of-Flight neutron diffraction data and refinement of symmetry deformation modes.

Vaclav’s contribution is not restricted to a user-friendly, all-purpose computer program for structural analysis; he also proposed new scientific methods - such as saw-tooth functions and the refinement of magnetic structures against neutron powder diffraction data - and added them into JANA2006.

The pioneering practical approach to the superspace formalism and Vaclav’s development of appropriate computation tools for its application has been fundamental for the development of the field of aperiodic crystals. Indeed, the mature stage that the crystallography of aperiodic crystals has reached would be unthinkable without the existence of Vaclav’s program JANA.


Elizabeth A. Wood Science Writing Award 2020:

Alan Alda & The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

The 2020 ACA Elizabeth A. Wood Science Writing Award is being given to Alan Alda and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. This Center empowers scientists and health professionals to communicate complex topics in clear, vivid, and engaging ways, leading to improved understanding by the public, media, patients, elected officials, and others outside of their own discipline.

Alan Alda, an actor and writer, has, over the past 2 decades, become a crusader for science communication. A life-long interest in science led to his hosting Scientific American Frontiers, a PBS series in which he interviewed hundreds of scientists, helping them make their research clear to the public. These interviews showed scientists presenting their work spontaneously and vividly. Alda decided that this was something that could be taught and thus was born the idea of a center to train scientists in STEM and medical communication. Using improvisational techniques he had learned in his years as an actor, he devised The Alda Method® to help scientists “tap into innate connections that come alive naturally when people recall a passion for their work.”

The Alda Center for Communicating Science was established in 2009 with support from Stony Brook University, Stony Brook School of Journalism, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This Center incorporates three entities: the Alda Center, the Alda Communication Training Company, and the Alda-Kavli Learning Center. The Alda Center conducts research on and offers programs and workshops for science and medical communication. The Alda Communication Training Company provides operational support so the Alda Center can devote more of its resources to research and development and does the administrative work for clearing and processing contracts for clients and trainers. The Alda-Kavli Learning Center is a place for scientists, researchers, healthcare professionals and others to continue to learn about and improve their communication style. The Center’s signature program is the Alda Science Communication Experience workshop.

The on-line learning experiences, workshops and other trainings offered by the Alda Center for Communicating Science have been valuable in bringing tools to 19,000 researchers to aid them in presenting their research findings in ways that inform economic and policy decisions, increase support for research, and help individuals make informed decisions. Beyond this, Alan Alda has helped to create a sense of wonder and joy in the natural world around us.