Alumni News

Posted on

Structural biologist and artist Professor David Goodsell (Ph.D. ‘87 Biochemistry, Dickerson) wins the Protein Society’s 2022 Carl Brändén Award for his exceptional contributions in the areas of education and/or service to the field. 

Professor David Goodsell is an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at the Scripps Research Institute and is a research professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey. He received bachelor’s degrees in biology and in chemistry from the University of California, Irvine in 1982 and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from UCLA with Professor Richard Dickerson in 1987. 

Goodsell’s artistic talent emerged early in his childhood, though his interest in drawing molecular structures started during his graduate school years, which coincided with the increased use of computers in structural biology. While writing molecular graphics programs to visualize crystal structures, Goodsell became increasingly interested in scientific illustration. His professional interest in molecules gradually intertwined with the artistic desire to paint them.  

(Left) David Goodsell’s popular 2020 painting of a cross section of the coronavirus. (Right) Professor Richard Dickerson with then Ph.D. student David Goodsell visualizing a DNA structure. 

Goodsell’s artwork has appeared on the covers of many journals, including NatureScience and Cell. He has also produced four books that feature his paintings (The Machinery of Life, Our Molecular Nature: The Body’s Motors, Machines and Messages, Bionanotechnology: Lessons from Nature, and Atomic Evidence: Seeing the Molecular Basis of Life).  In 2019, Science featured an article about Goodsell and his artwork.

In early 2020, Goodsell released a painting of a cross section of the coronavirus on social media and it was an instant hit. Since then the painting has received wide media attention and has been featured in prestigious publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and Forbes.  

Excerpted from the Protein Society announcement

The Protein Society Announces Its 2022 Award Recipients 

The Protein Society, the premier international society dedicated to supporting protein research, announces the winners of the 2022 Protein Society Awards, which will be conferred at the 36th Anniversary Symposium, July 7 – 10, 2022, in San Francisco, California. Plenary talks from select award recipients will take place throughout the 3.5-day event. The winners’ scientific accomplishments, highlighted here as described by their nominators, demonstrate their lasting impact on protein science. 

The Carl Brändén Award, sponsored by Rigaku Corporation, honors an outstanding protein scientist who has also made exceptional contributions in the areas of education and/or service to the field. 

The 2022 recipient of this award is Professor David Goodsell (Scripps Research and Rutgers University). Dr. Goodsell combines his training in structural biology and experience in scientific research and software development with active practice of the visual arts. He has pioneered extraordinary visual methods for exploring molecular and cellular structure that are the foundation of his public outreach/education work. His distinctive, non-photorealistic technique creates easily-interpretable illustrations of to-scale molecules and the structure of living cells, both as watercolor paintings and computer-generated images. With the RCSB Protein Data Bank at Rutgers University, he creates educational materials for exploring molecular and cellular structure. This includes the “Molecule of the Month,” a popular column for general audiences that presents the molecular mechanisms of fundamental biology, health and disease, and bioenergy. His passion for and remarkable ability to illustrate and describe molecular landscapes to expert researchers and beginners alike has led to collaborations with science museums, filmmakers, educators, and popular authors on the creation of educational and outreach materials. Dr. Goodsell has also written several general-interest books on molecular biology, cell biology, and bionanotechnology. Throughout his unique and impressive career, Professor Goodsell has promoted and enabled effective teaching and learning of biochemistry and molecular biology and has inspired the public with his vision, his creativity, and his artistic genius. 

The Protein Society is the leading international Society devoted to furthering research and development in protein science. Founded in 1986, the purpose of the Society is to provide international forums to facilitate communication, cooperation, and collaboration regarding all aspects of the study of proteins. In support of these goals, the Society publishes Protein Science , the premier journal in the field, hosts an annual international symposium, and facilitates the education of early-career protein scientists across all lines of discipline. The Protein Society members represent a wide spectrum of academic, industry, governmental, and non-profit institutions from more than 50 countries around the world.


Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,