We are pleased to honor UCLA biochemist Emeritus Professor Richard Dickerson, a giant in structural biology, who turned 90 on October 8, 2021.
To honor Dickerson, UCLA has established a new fund to provide resources for an enriched biochemistry seminar series on campus. This fund, celebrating Dickerson on the occasion of his 90th birthday, will augment the ability of UCLA’s biochemists, molecular, and structural biologists to continue the tradition of bringing the best scientific minds to campus to speak and interact with our faculty and students.
An inaugural Dickerson lecture by Professor Robert Stroud (University of California, San Francisco) is slated for 2022.
The Dickerson seminar fund is now marked by a plaque thanking the donors to the fund outside the main seminar room on the first floor of Boyer Hall, the home of the Molecular Biology Institute. This plaque has been placed next to a mosaic constructed by Dickerson to visualize the molecular evolution of cytochrome c (pictured below). Click here to view a PDF of the plaque text.
As a professor of physical chemistry at the Caltech, Dickerson’s structural study of cytochrome c was expanded into a beautiful exposition of molecular evolution, exemplified by the mosaic pictured above. Here, each line represents the sequence of the protein from species ranging from humans to plants, and the color of each tile represents one of the twenty canonical amino acids. Click here to see the cytochrome c sequences below the mosaic.
Dickerson was exceptionally valued by his faculty colleagues, the students in his laboratory, by the national and international research communities, and by the multitude of undergraduates and graduate students he taught. This fund recognizes the significant contributions of Dickerson to research, education, and the strength of the UCLA academic community.
Dickerson, a native of Illinois, received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1953 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1957, followed by two post-doctoral fellowships, first at Leeds University and then at Cambridge University. Dickerson began his academic career in 1959 as an assistant professor of physical chemistry at the University of Illinois. In 1963 he moved to the California Institute of Technology. In 1981, Professor David Eisenberg, who had been a postdoctoral fellow of Dickerson’s at CalTech, spearheaded a successful effort to bring Dickerson to UCLA where he went on to hold a joint appointment in the Division of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. Dickerson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985. He formally retired from UCLA in 2004 but remained active in writing about science.
At Caltech in 1968 – (left) contouring the electron density of cytochrome c. (right) Locating the heme group in the electron density of cytochrome c with Robert Stroud, Tsunehiro Takano, Dickerson, and David Eisenberg.
Since the beginning of his career, Dickerson’s research in structural biology has been ground-breaking. As a postdoc at the University of Cambridge (under John C. Kendrew) he recorded the data and computed the Fourier map for the 2.0 Å structure of myoglobin, the first atomic structure of a protein. As a professor at the University of Illinois, Dickerson produced the famous “sausage” diagram of myoglobin, the basis for all future representations of atomic structures of proteins (through Jane Richardson and Irving Geis and then computer drawings). As a professor of physical chemistry at the Caltech, Dickerson’s structural study of cytochrome c was expanded into a beautiful exposition of molecular evolution, exemplified by the mosaic (see above) on the wall outside the main seminar room in Boyer Hall at UCLA. At UCLA, Dickerson changed his focus to DNA and determined the first atomic structure of the B form of DNA. Watson was quoted as saying that this structure convinced him for the first time that the Watson-Crick structure was correct! Dickerson also made major contributions to the UCLA bioscience community following Professor Paul Boyer as the Director of the Molecular Biology Institute from 1983-1994. His term was characterized by expanding the membership through the campus and especially the medical school, and starting the famous Tuesday noon research lunch seminars.
(Left) Dickerson with then Ph.D. student David Goodsell (now a professor at Scripps) visualizing a DNA structure. (Right) At Dickerson’s 80th birthday party. Front row, Robert Stroud, Dickerson, David Eisenberg. Second row, Michael Sawaya, Sarah Griner, Pascal Egea, Douglas Rees, Duilio Cascio.
At UCLA, Dickerson changed his focus to DNA and determined the first atomic structure of the B form of DNA. Watson was quoted as saying that this structure convinced him for the first time that the Watson-Crick structure was correct!
Dickerson also made major contributions to the UCLA bioscience community following Professor Paul Boyer as the Director of the Molecular Biology Institute from 1983-1994. His term was characterized by expanding the membership through the campus and especially the medical school, and starting the famous Tuesday noon research lunch seminars.
Dickerson’s energy was also reflected in his non-research writings. In 2005, he wrote “Present at the Flood: How Structural Molecular Biology Came About”; in 2009 a history of the Molecular Biology Institute “The Making of an Institute: The MBI at UCLA – 1960-1978”.
How to Contribute to Richard E. Dickerson Biochemistry Seminar Fund
Contributions can be made directly via the online site or by check to the “UCLA Foundation” at the following address: The UCLA Foundation, PO Box 7145, Pasadena, CA 91109-9903.
If you are donating by check, please make sure that the name and fund number is on the check “The Richard E. Dickerson Biochemistry Seminar Fund #61246O”. The last character in the fund number is the letter “O”, not the number zero.
Further details on this fundraising effort can be obtained from Steven Clarke, David Eisenberg, or Joseph Loo, (email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com).
Photos courtesy of Professor Steven Clarke.
Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, firstname.lastname@example.org.