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01/30/2012 08:00:00

Caltech Professor David Tirrell Named Director of the Beckman Institute

David Tirrell, the Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor and professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at Caltech, has been appointed director of the Beckman Institute. He succeeds biologist Barbara Wold, who has returned to full-time professorial duties after a decade at the institute's helm.

"We would like to thank Barbara Wold for her dedication to and leadership of the Beckman Institute over the past 10 years," says Stephen Mayo, chair of the Division of Biology. "Under her guidance, the Beckman Institute has truly advanced its mission, enabling the invention of methods, instrumentation, and materials that will provide new opportunities for research at the interface of chemistry and biology."

Tirrell, who is known for work that bridges chemistry, biology, and materials science, served as chair of the division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech from 1999 until 2009. He was chosen for the new position by a search committee chaired by Doug Rees, Caltech's Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson Professor of Chemistry.

"Dave's research interests will serve him well in overseeing the Beckman Institute as will his administrative talents as a former chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering for ten years," says Jacqueline Barton, current chair of the division. "We thank him for this important service to the Institute and look forward to his outstanding leadership."

The Beckman Institute was opened in 1989 in a 160,000-square-foot building on the west end of campus with Harry Gray, the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry, as the founding director. Made possible by an initial $50 million commitment and challenge from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1986, the institute provides space for interdisciplinary work in endeavors such as advanced imaging, laser spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction, synthesis and characterization of novel organic and inorganic materials, and advanced mass spectroscopic methods for characterization of large biomolecules.

Tirrell joined the faculty at Caltech in 1998. He earned his BS from MIT in 1974 and his PhD from the University of Massachusetts in 1978. He became an assistant professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1978 and signed on as director of the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts in 1984.

Tirrell is one of only 13 living members of all three branches of the National Academies (Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine). He has also been awarded the Arthur C. Cope Scholar, Carl Marvel, Harrison Howe, S. C. Lind, and Madison Marshall Awards of the American Chemical Society, as well as the ACS Award in Polymer Chemistry.

Tirrell has developed methods for getting bacterial cells to "read" artificial genes and produce protein-like structures with unusual properties. His methods have led to new strategies for the design of therapeutic proteins and to new approaches to the analysis of protein synthesis in cells, tissues, and organisms.

Written by Kimm Fesenmaier