THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Los Angeles, presented the 2008 Glenn T. Seaborg Medal to UCLA chemistry professor Joan Selverstone Valentine at a symposium on Nov. 1.
After receiving her Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University in 1971, Valentine began her career at Rutgers University, where she determined how to use crown ethers to stabilize the superoxide anion, O2– in solution (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1975, 97, 224).
In 1980, Valentine moved to UCLA, where she has since focused her research on the study of superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzymes, which protect cells from oxidative damage by O2–. Much of her research has worked toward understanding the properties and biological functions of copper-zinc SOD (CuZnSOD), including the role of mutant CuZnSOD enzymes in familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
At the award symposium, which was marked by much laughter and collegiality, Valentine discussed her recent work on the effects of eliminating SOD enzymes in yeast. When the gene for CuZnSOD is absent, yeast are highly oxidatively stressed and increase their need for iron, although the form and function of the extra iron is unknown. Adding manganese to such cells can "rescue" them, perhaps indicating that manganese can work as a fundamental, nonenzymatic antioxidant in yeast and possibly also higher organisms (C&EN, April 7, page 50).
Valentine was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University and the first female faculty member in the UCLA chemistry department. She has served as the editor-in-chief of the journal Accounts of Chemical Research since 1994.
Valentine is the second woman to receive the Seaborg Medal. "She is a remarkable scientist and a fantastic mentor," said UCLA associate professor of biochemistry Guillaume Chanfreau when he introduced her talk at the symposium.
"She has been for all the people in the department an enormous source of inspiration and a wonderful colleague," added Roberto Peccei, UCLA vice chancellor for research and professor of physics, when he presented the medal at the award dinner.