Francis Arnold: a Nobel Prize woman scientist who stride over life's frustrations


Francis Arnold: a Nobel Prize woman scientist who stride over life's frustrations

Author: Qian Tongxin

In an interview in 2014, Professor Arnold acknowledged that women scientists do face gender barriers and stereotypes, but she encouraged women to ignore them and bravely step over them.

Arnold is not only the fifth woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize in 118 years of history, but also the first American woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Last week, the dust settled on the Nobel Prize in natural sciences, and the two women's winners received much attention.

Frances H. Arnold from California Institute of Technology won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for directed evolution of enzymes. Arnold is not only the fifth woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize in 118 years of history, but also the first American woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Canadian scientist Donna Strickland became the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Arnold shared this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Professor George P. Smith of the University of Missouri and Sir Gregory P. Winter of the University of Cambridge. Arnold won half of the prize for her contribution to Darwin's "theory of evolution" in a test tube.

Arnold, who has made great achievements in his career, has encountered many frustrations in his life, but she is as strong as her and always goes forward with her head held high.

The first female academician of the three Academicians

Arnold, 62 years old, has a blond hair and thin cheeks. As early as 20 years ago, Arnold, 43, won the title of Academician of the American Academy of Engineering. She was also the first female scientist in the United States to receive the title of "Three Academicians" of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Medical College.

More legendary, Arnold's father was a famous American nuclear engineer who worked for Westinghouse Electric. Arnold the Elder also won the title of Academician of the American Academy of Engineering at the age of 43. They are one of the few "father and daughter academicians" in American history.

In 2011, Arnold became the first female scientist to receive the Draper Prize from the American Academy of Engineering. In 2013, she won the national technology and Innovation Award, and Obama presented the award herself in the White House. In 2014, she was selected as the national inventor Hall of fame. In 2016, Arnold became the first woman to receive the Millennium Technology Prize from the Finnish Academy of Science and Technology. Last year, she won the 2017 year award of the National Academy of Sciences.

"In the early 1990s, Professor Arnold first created the'directed evolution'approach and used it to rapidly modify the function of enzymes. She has done a groundbreaking work in the field of directed evolution. "This is a revolutionary technology that has been adopted by a large number of laboratories around the world, and many chemical and biotechnological products are produced using this technology," Zhao Huimin, a PhD student at Arnold and a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois, told First Financial Reporter in a telephone interview.

Zhao Huimin is a witness of Arnold in the laboratory of California Institute of Technology. Arnold's Wikipedia page lists only two PhD students, Professor Christopher Voigt, co-director of the MIT Center for Synthetic Biology, and Professor Huimin Zhao. Professor Zhao is the first doctoral student of Professor Arnold to do directional evolution research.

Professor Zhao joined Professor Arnold's lab at the California Institute of Technology in 1992 and left in 1998, during which he and Professor Arnold published several influential papers in the industry.

Professor Zhao Huimin was cited in five important papers published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in the Scientific Background of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018 and the Directed Evolution of Enzyme-Protein Binding. Four of them were the first authors. Professor Zhao, who published an article in the Journal Nature Biotechnology in 1998, is the most frequently cited article on directed evolution by Professor Arnold.

Good news at 6:30 in the morning.

Professor Zhao was delighted to tell the First Financial Reporter that at 6:30 a.m. on October 3, he was preparing breakfast and heard the news about the Nobel Prize winners in chemistry. When he heard the name of Professor Arnold, he couldn't believe it.

"Ten years ago there was a rumor that her research might be a Nobel Prize, but you never know when you're going to get it. When this moment really comes, you won't believe it. " Professor Zhao still couldn't help but feel excited at the other end of the phone. "That kind of surprise is like winning a prize. Many news media calls have come to let me comment, and students have called to tell me the news."

Around 11 a.m., Professor Zhao called his tutor, and Professor Arnold was in Dallas on the other end of the line. She was scheduled to give a talk to students at the University of Texas Southwest on the same day, but the sudden good news forced her to fly to the airport and return to California.

"I woke up early in the morning, and the phone kept on." Arnold excitedly told Professor Zhao, "Now I have to cancel the lecture and fly home from Dallas." She also thanked everyone who supported her through social media Twitter.

At this moment, Professor Zhao remembered the celebration of Arnold's 60th birthday seminar, which he planned two years ago. The event was arranged at the California Institute of Technology. More than 70 experts and scholars came from all over the world. The gathering of more than 100 people was lively and grand. "We invited a scientist from every era to represent him, asking them to tell about their work. Professor Arnold is also very happy. Professor Zhao said.

The 60 birthday is of great significance to scientists, marking the peak of scholarship. But then, who would have thought that two years later, the Nobel prize would favor Arnold? "I immediately called my colleagues at Professor Arnold's lab to discuss another celebration for her." Professor Zhao told the first financial reporter.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1956, Professor Arnold earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 1979. Her career changed and she received a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985. She came to California Institute of Technology as a visiting assistant in 1986, and became an assistant professor in 1987, an associate professor in 1992, a professor in 1996, and a Dick & amp; Barbara Dickinson lecturer in chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry in 2000. She became director of the Donna and BenjaminM.Rosen bioengineering center of California Institute of Technology in 2013.

In a video clip that won the National Prize for Technology and Innovation in 2013, Professor Arnold explained her work: "Directed evolution allowed me to rewrite the life code, especially to solve human problems. The magic of directed evolution is that once you demonstrate this ability, all creative people can apply it to solving practical problems.

Rewrite the password of life

But when Arnold started her research, she didn't know that this "directed evolution" method would have such a big application prospect in the future. Professor Zhao told First Financial Reporter: "We made directional evolution very early, and I asked her later, when I decided to do it, did I realize that this technology could make so much sense? She said she felt it would be useful, but she did not know how useful it was. Scientific research is like this, when you have a strong enough idea, suddenly one day, when more people are used, the importance is reflected.

Professor Zhao recalled that around 2000, when his paper published in Nature Biotechnology caused a huge response, many laboratories around the world began to do similar things. "This is a good proof that the area you are studying is of great value." Professor Zhao told the first financial reporter.

Professor Zhao also said that in recent years, Professor Arnold's laboratory has constantly produced new results. "Her lab now has about 13 Ph.D. candidates, many postdocs, about 25 people, and a large pool of cross-border talent," he said.

In 2017, for example, Arnold and her colleagues used a "directed evolution" approach to enable enzymes to synthesize silicon-carbon bonds. The discovery can produce products with silicon carbon bonds from lubricants to pharmaceuticals in a more environmentally friendly way.

Professor Zhao told First Financial Reporter that Professor Arnold is still doing research on directed evolution, but is more focused on creating new and better enzymes. "She's constantly transcending herself, mimicking evolution through test tubes, to create things that nature can't create." Professor Zhao said.

Professor Zhao further explained that enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. These enzymes are not harmful to the environment and can often replace toxic chemicals. Enzymes produced through directed evolution can be used to make everything from biofuels to innovative drugs, promote a more environmentally friendly chemical industry, produce new materials, make sustainable biofuels, reduce disease and save lives.

"Evolution is the most powerful engineering method in the world, and we should use it to find new biological solutions to problems." Arnold said in an interview with California Institute of Technology newspaper in 2017.

According to Allied Market, the market for synthetic biology applications will be $38.7 billion by 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of 44 percent, and $56 billion by 2025, with a compound growth rate of 28 percent.

The soft side of "strict teacher"

Professor Zhao still had enough reverence for Yan Shi when he recalled working in Arnold's laboratory as a student. "She is a more severe woman, very direct, if not well done, she will be scolded in person." Professor Zhao told First Financial Reporter, "But she is also the kind of extensive management, will point out some general direction to students, give students a lot of freedom, as long as she approves of your ideas, will be very supportive of you. Professors in the United States usually do not teach students by hand, but pay more attention to interaction.

Professor Zhao had consulted Professor Arnold about his career development plan in 1998 when he graduated from university. "She also advised me to apply for a professorship, but I weighed it up and decided that it was unlikely to be a professor, so I went to Dow's Chemistry." Professor Zhao recalled, "two years after I worked in the enterprise, I returned to school to become a professor."

The image of the "strict teacher" in Professor Zhao's eyes is changed through an interlude on a business trip. That was in 1995, when Professor Arnold took Professor Zhao to San Diego, California, for the 13th International Conference on Enzyme Engineering, the third year that Professor Zhao had joined the Arnold Laboratory.

"When she had second children at that time, she asked me to drive, and I was still poor.


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