Celebrating Emeritus Professor Dan Atkinson’s 100th Birthday

Posted on

Atkinson Daniel small

We are pleased to honor eminent UCLA biochemist Emeritus Professor Daniel Atkinson who turned 100 on April 8, 2021.

Dan was born in Pawnee City, Nebraska and did his undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska, followed a Ph.D. at Iowa State University. He was a postdoc at the California Institute of Technology and a research scientist at Argonne National labs before coming to UCLA in 1952 as the second biochemist in the department. Atkinson retired in 1992 and is presently living in Corvallis, Oregon.

In more than 90 publications with his students, Atkinson’s research pioneered the field of metabolic regulation. This work allowed for the development of the concept of “energy charge,” now a main topic of biochemistry textbooks. He was also responsible for our present understanding of the biological role of the urea cycle in pH regulation. Students in our Chemistry and Biochemistry 153C course are still delighted to hear how his findings, initially challenged by the old guard, made their way into mainstream biochemistry. His classic 1977 monograph published by Academic Press, “Cellular Energy Metabolism and its Regulation“, presented a global view of the logic of metabolism and is still widely read and acclaimed. In a 2005 review, John Duncan wrote that “… anyone wanting a readable introduction to the classic ideas of metabolic regulation could scarcely find a better place to start.”  In a 2013 review, Ralph Osgood remarked that it was a “great book still many years later from a great scientist” with a touch of “delicious heresy.”  Atkinson recognized the power of personal computers early on, and in 1987 published “Dynamic Models in Biochemistry: A Workbook of Computer Simulations Using Electronic Spreadsheets.” At UCLA, Atkinson trained over 30 Ph.D. students and over 20 postdoctoral fellows and visiting faculty.

In 2016, the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry established the Daniel E. Atkinson & Charles A. West Prizes and Fellowships in Metabolic Biochemistry to be presented to undergraduate and graduate students to recognize their excellence in this area and to provide summer research fellowships for undergraduates and graduate students to conduct research in Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty labs.  Atkinson and UCLA biochemist Professor Charles West arrived at UCLA in 1952 and joined Professor Max Dunn, who at that time was the only biochemist in the department. By the time they retired in the early 1990s, there were 18 biochemistry faculty members, and Atkinson and West had played major roles in recruiting most of them. Both Atkinson and West were exceptionally valued by their faculty colleagues, the students in their laboratories, by the national and international research communities, and by the multitude of undergraduates they taught. These awards and fellowships honor the significant contributions of both men to research, education, and the strength of the UCLA academic community.

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