ASU teams up with 7 research universities to establish new science center

November 6, 2013

Arizona State University is teaming up with seven other research universities to establish a new Science and Technology Center (STC), sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with an initial five-year, $25-million grant (extendable for another five years).

The STC award is one of three granted by the NSF in 2013, with the others going to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. group photo Download Full Image

The center will be based at the University at Buffalo (UB). It is expected to transform the field of structural and dynamic molecular biology, including drug development, by using X-ray lasers to peer into biological molecules.

The BioXFEL center will focus on developing a new bio-imaging technique – including an advanced form of X-ray crystallography, called snapshot serial femtosecond nanocrystallography – to analyze a vast array of molecules at which drug molecules can be targeted.

This exciting new technique, the focus of several recent papers published in Science and Nature, has shown the potential to spur much needed innovation in the pharmaceutical field because it will provide scientists with new insights into how biological molecules function and what might be happening when disease occurs, and help determine what compounds could modify this activity.

Researchers at BioXFEL also will develop “crystallography without crystals,” in which X-ray snapshots (which are so brief that they avoid damaging the samples) can be used to image single viruses and large molecules, which currently cannot be crystallized for conventional crystallography.

“The NSF’s Science and Technology Center competition is very intense, with 270 applications this year alone, and few outstanding ideas are chosen nationally for this prestigious award,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

“The award of this center testifies to the world-class research conducted by our exemplary faculty and scientific leaders. It will significantly accelerate this activity and establish Arizona State University as the leader in developing new bio-imaging techniques to address health challenges and improve the quality of life,” Panchanathan said.

Eaton Lattman, a professor in the UB Department of Structural Biology in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and chief executive officer of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, will be director of the new center. John Spence, a Regents’ Professor of Physics at Arizona State University, which has the largest concentration of researchers in the consortium, will serve as the center’s director of science.

“With this new bio-imaging technique developed at the BioXFEL center, we will be able to analyze crystals 1,000 times smaller than the ones we can use now,” Lattman said. “These are crystals we could never use before and, in fact, we may not have known existed. A whole new universe of drug targets will become accessible for study as a result.”

For ASU’s Spence, the center will open new realms in biological research.

“We will be developing new techniques for making movies of molecular machines at work, and of viruses and biomolecules in their natural wet environment undergoing chemical change,” said Spence. “Some of the work, with professor Petra Fromme at ASU, will attempt to image the detailed atomic processes responsible for photosynthesis. This age-old process occurs when sunlight falls on green plants, allowing them to split water, creating the oxygen we breathe and converting the carbon dioxide responsible for global warming into carbohydrates.”

Spence said ASU’s contributions to BioXFEL will primarily be in four areas: research in biophysics aimed at improving the techniques of delivering the wet, submicron-sized bioparticles across a pulsed X-ray beam in vacuum (with ASU professors Bruce Doak and Uwe Weierstall of the Department of Physics); application of the method to the molecular mechanisms of photosynthesis (in professor Fromme’s group in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry); development of new data analysis methods; and work on the structure of individual viruses (lead by professor Brenda Hogue of the School of Life Sciences and ASU’s Biodesign Institute).

UB also will manage the large technology transfer, diversity and education programs, for which professor Carole Greenes at Arizona State University will lead the West Coast component. Labs will be set up to demonstrate the principle of the research for Arizona high school students and undergraduates.

The femtosecond nanocrystallography technique could enable researchers to view molecular dynamics at a time-scale never observed before. Spence said the method basically operates by collecting the scattering for the image so quickly that images are obtained before the sample is destroyed by the X-ray beam.

By "outrunning" radiation-damage processes in this way, the researchers can record the time-evolution of molecular processes at room temperature, Spence said.

“This opens the way to future experiments on laser-excited samples, 3-D image reconstruction and a host of other experiments on fast-imaging, all directed at the grand challenge of obtaining movies showing molecular machines at work,” added Spence.

Following the construction of the world's first hard X-ray laser, the LINAC Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, near Stanford University, the Arizona State University researchers and a group from Hamburg, Germany, led the first biological experiments to demonstrate the technique in 2009.

Spence said researchers at the new center will use the X-ray beam at SLAC and will focus on breaking new ground in biological molecular analysis.

“We are enormously excited about the opportunity, which the recent invention of the pulsed hard X-ray laser gives us, to make movies of molecules in action and to image molecular reactions in solution as they happen,” said Spence. “We are extremely fortunate to be one of only three centers supported from a pool of hundreds of applicants,” he added.

Other partner institutions are the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Cornell University, Rice University, the University of California at San Francisco and Stanford University. The University of California at Davis also will help with creating and managing the educational program.

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


Grey, Canby elected to American Law Institute

November 6, 2013

Professor Betsy J. Grey of ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and College of Law founding faculty member William C. Canby Jr., a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, recently were elected as new members of the American Law Institute.

As part of its 90th anniversary celebration, the institute announced the election of 69 new members, including 15 jurists, 29 practicing lawyers and 25 scholars. Grey and Canby were two of only four selected from Arizona. Download Full Image

The institute recognized Grey for various accomplishments, but particularly her recent scholarly work, which has focused on the study of no-fault compensation systems in the United States, as well as the impact of advancements in neuroscience on tort law. Grey was named the College of Law’s Alan A. Matheson Fellow in 2011 in recognition of her contributions to scholarship, teaching and service to the law school community. 

The ALI cited Canby’s formidable expertise in Indian law and his distinguished service on the bench as factors in his election as a member of the institute.    

“I applaud the ALI for adding these distinguished scholars and jurists to their ranks,” said dean Douglas Sylvester.

Professor Myles Lynk, a past member of the institute’s council, nominated Grey.

“Betsy Grey is a wonderful colleague, whose scholarship and service are also enhanced by her prior experience in the practice of law,” Lynk said.

Grey said she was honored to be elected.

“From the first day in law school, you learn the importance of the Restatements of Law adopted by the institute and their influence on the development of legal rules and principles,” Grey said. “I am excited to be given the opportunity to participate in that process.”

Canby said he was excited to be involved with the institute.

"I am pleased and honored to become a member of the American Law Institute, which has done so much valuable work in the past,” Canby said. “I am particularly enthusiastic about my further participation as an adviser to the upcoming Restatement Third, The Law of American Indians."

The institute, made up of 4,000 lawyers, judges and law professors, is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize and otherwise improve the law.

According to their website, members of the ALI have opportunities to influence the development of the law in both existing and emerging areas, to work with other eminent lawyers, judges and academics, to give back to a profession to which they are deeply dedicated and to contribute to the public good.

Grey and Canby join nine other College of Law professors who are members, including Paul Bender, Charles Calleros, Ira Ellman, Myles Lynk, Gary Marchant, Jonathan Rose, Douglas Sylvester, Rebecca Tsosie and James Weinstein.

Grey publishes and teaches on issues of tort law, products liability and mass tort litigation, as well as neuroscience and law, and has presented to judicial conferences and other professional groups on these issues. Her recent scholarly work has focused on the study of no-fault compensation systems in the United States, as well as the impact of advancements in neuroscience on tort law. She also has taught products liability as part of a common law program to law students in France.

Before joining the College of Law, Grey was a commercial litigator at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Shea & Gardner, and a trial attorney for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice through the Honors Program, where she represented federal agencies and officials in litigation involving constitutional, statutory and regulatory issues. A former articles editor of the Georgetown Law Journal, Grey clerked for Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grey is a member of the Professional Editorial Board for Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science, and Technology.

Canby graduated summa cum laude from Yale University in 1953, and from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1956, Order of the Coif. He served two years as a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Air Force, then clerked for Associate Justice Charles Evans Whittaker on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1958-59.

During his tenure as a law clerk, the Supreme Court decided Williams v. Lee, a case that sparked Canby’s lifelong interest in Indian law. He returned to Minneapolis and practiced law at Oppenheimer, Hodgson, Brown, Baer & Wolf.

In 1962, Canby and his wife, Jane, helped establish the Peace Corps in Africa, serving first in Ethiopia, then as a director in Uganda. Returning to the United States, he served as Special Assistant to Sen. Walter F. Mondale, then as an assistant to Harris Wofford, President of State University of New York at Old Westbury.

Canby came to Arizona in 1967 as a founding faculty member of ASU’s College of Law, taught the first classes in Indian law and was instrumental in the creation of the Indian Law Program. He also devoted numerous hours to assisting Arizona farmworkers and other citizens in need of legal help. While at ASU, Canby visited Uganda as a Fulbright Professor of Law at Makerere University (1970-71). In 1999, he returned to Ethiopia in an attempt to facilitate peace during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Canby has become known as an expert in American Indian law. He has testified before Congress and authored law review articles, a major textbook and "Canby’s American Indian Law in a Nutshell," now in its fifth edition. While still a professor at ASU, he successfully argued Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment allows lawyers to advertise in a manner that is not misleading to members of the general public.