Nobel Laureate to Speak in Portland, Mon. May 5th

Portrait of Roderick MacKinnon

The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections is very excited to announce that Dr. Roderick MacKinnon, co-recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, will deliver the Linus Pauling Legacy Award Lecture on Monday, May 5th. The event is scheduled to begin at 8:00 PM, and will take place in downtown Portland at the Portland Hilton & Executive Tower’s Pavilion Ballroom. The talk is free and open to the public.

Dr. MacKinnon’s lecture will focus upon the groundbreaking ion channel chemistry research for which the Rockefeller University professor has received international acclaim. MacKinnon’s work has revolutionized the scientific understanding of how potassium ion channels function on cell membranes. While this may seem to be a rather technical achievement, the real-world implications of MacKinnon’s efforts are profound as they promise to shed new light on potential cures for a wide range of neuromuscular diseases.

The path that Dr. MacKinnon took to his most significant scientific breakthroughs was an interesting one indeed. MacKinnon’s deep interest in potassium ion channels was such that, in the late 1980s, he concluded that he would need to teach himself the complicated techniques of x-ray crystallography in order to develop a complete understanding of his research problem. Unfortunately, his established and successful laboratory at the Harvard University Medical School was not well-equipped for this undertaking, leading MacKinnon to seek out a new research environment at the Rockefeller University, a move which many regarded to be a huge risk. In his Nobel autobiography, MacKinnon notes that

“There were really two reasons motivating me to move. First was the practical issue of obtaining funding to work in an area in which I had no background: start-up funds associated with moving to a new university would be useful for this purpose. The second and far more important reason was that moving would enable me to immerse myself completely in the new endeavor. A change of environment would remove the distractions of everyday life, isolate me from the temptation to fall back on channel physiology studies that I was already good at, and allow me to focus with singular purpose on the structural studies. I needed this to become an expert in membrane protein biochemistry and X-ray crystallography, and to develop a ‘feel’ for protein structure….It has been said that giving up my already successful lab at Harvard in order to pursue the structure of a K+ channel was a risky thing to do. At the time I was told that my aspirations were altogether unrealistic. From my perspective I had little choice because I wanted to understand K+ selectivity and I knew that the atomic structure provided the only path to understanding. I would rather fail trying than never try at all. It helped that I was accustomed to making transitions and had become good at teaching myself new subjects.”

Dr. MacKinnon will be visiting Oregon in part to receive the 2008 Linus Pauling Legacy Award, a biennial decoration granted to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to a field of research once studied by Linus Pauling. The Pauling Legacy Award is but the latest in a long series of accolades granted to Dr. MacKinnon. Prior to his receipt of the Nobel Prize, MacKinnon was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator (1997), had his work recognized by Science magazine as one of ten “Breakthroughs of the Year” for 1998, and was presented with the prestigious Lasker Award in 1999. Since then, MacKinnon has been inducted into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, received the Rosenstiel and Gairdner awards, and has accepted an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Tufts University Medical School.

More information about Dr. MacKinnon’s visit is available here.

What: “Ion Channel Chemistry: The Electrical System of Life.” The 2008 Linus Pauling Legacy Award Lecture by Nobel Laureate Dr. Roderick MacKinnon. Sponsored by the Oregon State University Libraries.

Where: Hilton & Executive Tower, Pavilion Ballroom, 921 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, Oregon

When: Monday, May 5th. 8:00 PM. Free and open to the public. Seats may be reserved ahead of time by calling (541)-737-2075 or emailing special[dot]collections[at]oregonstate[dot]edu

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