Akira and Atsuko FujimotoRecent gift continues tradition of support for biochemistry Ph.D. students

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Akira and Dr. Atsuko Fujimoto with Professor Roberts Smith and his wife Adela Smith in 2013.

UCLA alumni Dr Atsuko and Akira Fujimoto have made an additional $100,000 commitment to the Roberts A Smith Graduate Award for the Study of Biochemistry. 

The Roberts A. Smith Graduate Award for the Study of Biochemistry was established in 2009 with a generous endowment from funds contributed both by Professor Roberts Smith and his wife Adela and the Fujimotos. Since its establishment, the award has considerably strengthened the UCLA experience for many graduate students in biochemistry, and this recent gift will ensure that this tradition continues.  

Akira and Dr. Atsuko Fujimoto with Professor Roberts Smith and his wife Adela Smith in 2013.

This year, graduate student Joseph Ong, who conducts research in the Torres and Quinlan groups, will receive the 2022 Roberts A. Smith Dissertation Award. Ong says he plans to use the award money to purchase a microscope, which he will use for science outreach activities. 

The 2021 Roberts A. Smith Dissertation Award recipient, alumnus Dr. John Muroski, used the award to help with his research on probing post-translational modifications in environmentally impactful bacteria using mass spectrometry in Professor Joseph Loo’s group. The award was also critical in helping Muroski relocate to Princeton University, where he is currently a postdoctoral researcher.   

Once fully funded, the Fujimotos’ new $100,000 contribution to the fund will be matched to establish the Roberts A. Smith Graduate Award Matching Fund to double the impact of the Fujimotos’ generosity.  

In 1958, when Professor Roberts Smith joined the then-named UCLA Department of Chemistry, he was one the first members of the biochemistry faculty. Smith retired in 1987, but kept active in departmental activities until his passing in 2018. He was an engaging teacher and beloved colleague in the department. His wife Adela Smith, who passed away in December 2021, was a loyal supporter of the department. 

Dr. Atsuko Fujimoto was Smith’s first graduate student and, when she graduated in 1963, she was one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the department. Smith served as a mentor to Fujimoto throughout her academic career while she pursued her Ph.D. and as she received her medical degree from UCLA in 1969. Fujimoto was the Chief of the Genetics Division at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California (USC) Medical Center from 1987 until her retirement in 2006. In 2018, Fujimoto received the department’s Inaugural Alumni Legacy award, along with the other three women who were first to receive Ph.D.’s from the department.  

“I had some moments of doubt in pursuing my Ph.D., but Bob was always supportive and convinced me I could do it,” said Fujimoto. “Whatever he told me to do, I succeeded. Bob played a major role throughout my life as a colleague and a good friend – we will miss him deeply.” 

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.