February 9, 2021

David Baker, leader in protein design, to speak virtually about vaccine development

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Honors College announces that David Baker will make a virtual keynote to the Purdue University community as the 2021 Aronson Scholar.

Baker, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, is a world leader in the field of protein design. He is director of the Institute for Protein Design and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. 

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Irving Sigal and Hans Neurath awards from the Protein Society, the Overton Prize from the International Society for Computational Biology, the Feynman Prize from the Foresight Institute, the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and the Centenary Award from the Biochemical Society. Baker has published over 500 research papers, been granted over 100 patents, and co-founded 11 companies.

Among his accomplishments is leading the creation of a free online game called Foldit, in which citizen scientists use the game’s interface to design proteins with specific criteria by solving the game’s puzzles. The proteins can then be tested to develop new antiviral drugs, such as for COVID-19.

“The innovation that Dr. Baker has shown through Foldit, as well as his other work on protein design, displays the forward-thinking research that we instill in our students at Purdue,” said Rhonda Phillips, dean of the Honors College. “We’re excited for the opportunity to share his insights with the Honors College, the Purdue campus and the broader community.”

The keynote presentation, titled “The Coming of Age of De Novo Protein Design,” will take place at 5:30 p.m. March 9 on the Honors College YouTube page, with a question-and-answer session to follow. Registration is available online.

In advance of Baker’s presentation, the Honors College will hold a panel discussion on “Making it Public: Communicating Scientific Research and the Bioethical Implications of Designer Biology” at 1 p.m. March 8. The panel will include Baker and representatives from the Department of Biology, a co-sponsor of Baker’s visit, and Learning and Design Technology. Registration is available online.

The Aronson Family Science and Society Honors Lecture Series, hosted by the Honors College, continues for the fourth consecutive year thanks to the generous support of the Aronson family. Previous speakers for the series have been Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut; Katie Bouman, an engineer and computer scientist who worked on the first-ever image of a black hole; and Moira Gunn, a Purdue alumna and host of the NPR program "Tech Nation."

Media contact: Jim Bush, 765-336-1909, jsbush@purdue.edu

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