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Alfred Bader Award in Bioinorganic or Bioorganic Chemistry

February 13, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 7

Credit: Photo By Mary T. Flores
Credit: Photo By Mary T. Flores

Sponsored by Alfred Bader

F. Ann Walker was captivated by the colors when she first did qualitative analysis by flame photometry in her high school chemistry class. She soon found that she also liked the logic of the chemical equilibria involved in producing the colors. She was an undergraduate teaching assistant during her sophomore year, teaching beginning students the ins and outs of the qualitative analysis scheme. She decided then that she wanted to study inorganic chemistry. As an undergraduate and graduate student and eventually as an NIH postdoctoral fellow, her interest focused on inorganic and, finally, bioinorganic chemistry.

After so many years, this field continues to hold her attention "because metal ions are so important in biological systems, and I am excited to unravel the secrets involved in how these metal ions carry out their biological functions," she says. "Hemes and heme proteins are vital components of essentially every cell of almost every living organism. They have many diverse roles in vital life processes."

Through a long series of imaginative and thorough investigations, Walker has elucidated the electronic structure of nearly every biologically relevant heme oxidation and spin state. She is an internationally recognized authority on the spectroscopic properties of metalloporphyrins. She has identified the role of axial ligation, axial ligand orientation, and porphyrin substitution and geometry in the electronic structures of low-spin iron(III) porphyrins. By doing so, she has boosted the understanding of how nature controls the oxidation-reduction properties of the electron-transfer proteins known as the cytochromes, which are important biological electron carriers.

A colleague notes, "Her work is characterized by an extremely thoughtful, thorough approach to difficult, important issues." Furthermore, the colleague adds, it is not an overstatement to say that "her work on the development of two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance techniques for the study of paramagnetic molecules has made her the world's leading authority in this area."

Walker received a B.A. in chemistry from the College of Wooster, in Ohio, in 1962, and a Ph.D. in physical inorganic chemistry from Brown University, in 1966. Her former mentors, the late Theodore R. Williams of the College of Wooster; the late Phillip H. Rieger of Brown University; Richard L. Carlin, then of Brown University and now of the University of Illinois, Chicago; and the late Daniel Kivelson of UCLA, all played important roles in her growth in chemistry and the profession of being an academic chemist.

She is currently a Regents Professor of Chemistry at the University of Arizona, a position she has held since 2001. She joined Arizona in 1990 as a professor of chemistry. She started her career at Ithaca College and rose through the ranks of professorships at San Francisco State College, which became San Francisco State University. She became professor of chemistry at San Francisco State University in 1976, and at the same time she received the NIH Research Career Development Award.

Walker has received a huge number of awards and honors, including the ACS Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal, an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award in Science, and the Luigi Saccconi Award in Inorganic Chemistry from the Inorganic Division of the Italian Chemical Society. She is most grateful to her international colleagues, Alfred X. Trautwein in Germany and Ivano Bertini in Italy, for their continuing collaboration and support.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Inorganic Chemistry and will be cosponsored by the Division of Biochemistry.-Janet Dodd


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