Ohio Eminent Scholar in photochemistry joins faculty

A specialist in physical chemistry has been named an Ohio Board of Regents Eminent Scholar in photochemical sciences at BGSU. Dr. Peter Lu, currently a chief scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division of the Fundamental Science Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash., will join the faculty Aug. 9.

Dr. Peter Lu
Dr. Peter Lu
His appointment as a full professor with tenure was approved by the board of trustees May 5, with the backing of the tenured faculty in the chemistry department.

“This expands the Center for Photochemical Sciences toward the biological frontier,” said Dr. Michael Ogawa, chair of the chemistry department. “With Peter Lu, we can expand the problems we are attacking.”

Calling him a “pioneer in the field of how enzymes work,” Ogawa said “he brings some very advanced chemical techniques to bear on some important biological problems.”

Lu’s research group centers on single-molecule spectroscopy, studying the dynamics—or motions—of single molecules of proteins and enzymes as they conduct their biochemical functions.

“There’s an intimate relationship between their physical properties and their chemical functions,” Ogawa said.

Proteins are very important in biochemistry because they perform many functions, Lu explained. In the past, observation and measurement of their activity has been static, through the use of X-ray crystallography and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Information was gained by taking averages of their movements over time. “That’s great information,” he said, “but we know that their dynamics fluctuate over time. Now we can observe one molecule at a time as it interacts with other proteins and enzymes. These enzymatic reactions are very important to metabolism but very complex, and we need cutting-edge technology to be able to measure them in real time.”

Lu, who specializes in such techniques as time-resolved spectroscopy and imaging, and single-molecule sensitivity, will be bringing some equipment with him to Bowling Green.

The chemistry department houses the Ohio Laboratory for Kinetic Spectrometry, which maintains modern transient spectroscopy facilities. Using its sophisticated instruments, he will be able to compare experimental results with theoretical results to see how they match up.

Lu said the most impressive thing about Bowling Green is the people, who have been dedicated to the study of photochemical sciences for many years, coinciding with his own research interests. “I look forward to making more connections between photochemistry and biomedical problems and always having collaboration with biologists,” he said.

A graduate of Peking University in chemistry, Lu received master’s and doctoral degrees in physical chemistry from Columbia University in 1987 and 1991, respectively. After working as a research associate at Northwestern University from 1991-95, he moved to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The author or co-author of nearly 50 publications, he has also been an invited presenter at about 35 conferences, including the 1999 Nobel Conference on Spectroscopy of Single Molecules in Physics, Chemistry and Life Science, in Stockholm, Sweden. He is a reviewer for scientific journals such as Analytical Chemistry, the Journal of Physical Chemistry and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, among others.

After having worked in a national laboratory since 1995, Lu said he is eager to get back into a university environment where he can teach graduate students both in the classroom and the laboratory. “I really enjoy teaching, and I look forward to being able to make contributions to science and education.”

Collaborating with him will be the renowned computational scientist Dr. Massimo Olivucci of Siena, Italy, recently hired by the chemistry department as an adjunct professor. This “cluster hire” will strengthen BGSU’s photosciences/biosciences concentration, Ogawa said.

The Center for Photochemical Sciences, established in 1985, evolved from research activities of faculty in the chemistry department to make more effective use of focused resources in the photochemical sciences by assembling teams of scientists collaborating in an interactive, interdisciplinary research setting. The center houses the Wright Photosciences Laboratory, which provides unique opportunities for interactions with industrial photoscientists.

Center members include faculty from the departments of chemistry, physics and astronomy, and biological sciences at BGSU. Its unifying intellectual theme focuses on the study of the interaction of light with physical, chemical and biological systems, and on the quest for practical applications of that basic knowledge, stimulating new technology. The center serves to expand the synergy of research, teaching and applications in the photochemical sciences.
May 8, 2006