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Dorfan Today: SLAC Helps Enable Chemistry Nobel

(Photo - Jonathan Dorfan)Congratulations to Roger Kornberg for winning the 2006 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. As Kornberg stressed at the press conference on campus last Wednesday morning, many people helped with and contributed to the research projects that led to the prize. Indeed the development of the key elements and tools extended over many years starting with Kornberg's doctoral thesis. And SLAC played an important role in the research by providing the tools for imaging the protein complex that is responsible for transcription.

Since the early 1990s, Kornberg and his group studied transcription at SSRL, in particular taking advantage of the unique properties of beamlines 9-2 and 11-1. By passing the lab's extremely bright x-rays through crystallized samples of a large multi-protein complex and watching how the x-rays scattered, they were able to reveal the three-dimensional atomic structure of the constituent proteins. This high level of detail allowed Kornberg to view these complex structures and offered the first real understanding of the defining elements of transcription.

At the press conference Kornberg expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to make full use of SSRL's unique resources: "We could not have solved the problem that was noted in the Nobel Prize announcement without the exceptional facilities given to us by SLAC. They were indispensable." It is very gratifying when a research project we are associated with is accorded the highest prize in science and the SLAC staff can be justifiably proud to have contributed to this breakthrough research

The scientific productivity of SLAC-based science has been prodigious and of exceptional quality leading to three Nobel Prizes in Physics. But this time it's different. Last week's prize was awarded for Chemistry, not Physics, and the culminating measurements were done on an x-ray beam line rather than with high-energy particle beams. As earth moving machines forge the outline of the LCLS, I am filled with hope that SLAC's first contribution to a Nobel Prize using x-ray beams is the beginning of a new tradition.

Congratulations again to Roger Kornberg and his team.

—Jonathan Dorfan, October 9, 2006