Nobel Prize Winner Professor Frances Arnold announced as 2019 Birch Lecturer

Publication date
Thursday, 6 Dec 2018

We are delighted to announce that the 2019 Birch Lecturer will be 2018 Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold. The aim of the visit of the Birch Lecturer is to enable eminent chemists to deliver a series of lectures on their research, and to interact with School staff, students and alumni. Birch lecturers are chemists who are at the peak of their international career, and we could not be more delighted to have Professor Arnold join us in 2019.

Professor Arnold was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for her work in directed evolution. This makes her the fifth woman to receive the award in its 117 years of existence, and the first American woman to receive the honour.

Professor Arnold renowned for her work in using directed evolution to create enzymes with improved and/or novel functions. Directed evolution involves a number of iterative rounds of randomly mutating proteins’ genes and then screening for proteins with improved functions. The process is being used to help create useful biological systems, including enzymes, metabolic pathways, genetic regulatory circuits and organisms.

This approach mimics evolution, but does so much faster than usual. As Princeton University explains:

“Instead of waiting for random mutations to creep into genetic code over thousands of generations, Arnold works with bacteria — which produces a new generation in about 20 minutes — and chooses which traits to breed together.”

It is for this work that Arnold received her Nobel Prize. In the announcement the Nobel Committee said that she had received the award for “harnessing the power of evolution”:

“In 1993, she conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions. Since then, she has refined the methods that are now routinely used to develop new catalysts. The uses of Frances Arnold’s enzymes include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels for a greener transport sector.

We are absolutely delighted to have Professor Arnold join us for the Birch Lecture in 2019. She will bring infinite wisdom and expertise to The School and we are all excited about what we can learn from her.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the 2018 Birch Lecturer, Professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, from Carnegie Mellon University. Professor Matyjaszewski visited the RSC on the 31st October and presented a lecture entitled "Macromolecular Engineering by Taming Free Radicals". Thank you for your time and your visit.