Issue Date: March 2, 2009
ACS Award in Separations Science & Technology
Sponsored by Waters Corp.
When C&EN asked Abraham M. (Bramie) Lenhoff if he was surprised to receive this award, he replied, “Absolutely.” He shouldn’t have been.
The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments in fundamental or applied research directed to separations science and technology. With Lenhoff’s research in understanding and manipulating protein behavior in bioseparations, the Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware is a perfect fit, claiming accomplishments in both the fundamental and applied categories.
“His hallmark is the merger of the experimental and theoretical methods of biophysics and colloidal science into the chemical engineering framework of process analysis and synthesis,” says Stanley I. Sandler, H. B. du Pont Chair of Chemical Engineering at Delaware. “The resulting advances have been critical steps toward setting bioseparations on the same rigorous foundation enjoyed by separations in the traditional chemical process industries.”
Lenhoff, 53, is being honored for, among other work, his advances in calculating protein-protein interactions by accounting in detail for the three-dimensional structure of proteins. Most prior methods, Lenhoff says, had used colloidal models that neglected molecular anisotropy, or the principle that interactions vary when measured along axes in different directions. “Our computations indicated that the interactions are dominated by a small number of pairwise configurations. As a result, the models suggest that even bulk thermodynamic properties that determine separations behavior are controlled by the molecular recognition phenomena characteristic of biological macromolecules.
“An interesting observation is that the complexity of the interactions is a challenge for molecular simulations, even with modern computational capabilities, but it is precisely this complexity that produces the rich range of properties of protein solutions,” Lenhoff says.
Another challenge brought about by the complexity of calculating the properties of protein solutions is the need for more efficient measurement techniques. Lenhoff has made significant contributions to tackling this problem by combining “sophisticated theory with experiment in the application of self-interaction chromatography to measure solution properties,” Sandler says. “This method is proving to be an enabling technology for efficient protein interaction measurements by investigators in both academic and industrial labs.”
Keeping his finger on the pulse of the industrial world is important for Lenhoff in marrying theory and application. “From my perspective, my contact with industry is invaluable in providing a reality check as to whether our research, which is fundamental in nature, is relevant to industrial practice,” he says.
Lenhoff received a B.Sc. in chemical engineering in 1976 from the University of Cape Town, in South Africa. He then went on to receive M.S. (1979) and Ph.D. (1984) degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He joined the chemical engineering department at Delaware in 1984.
He is the director of Delaware’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence on Membrane Protein Production & Characterization, which has support from a five-year, $10.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. He also serves on the editorial board of Biotechnology & Bioengineering and is an associate editor of the AIChE Journal. Among his many honors, Lenhoff became a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute for Medical & Biological Engineering in 2003.
Lenhoff will present the award address before the Division of Biochemical Technology.
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