Welcoming Professor Hannah Shafaat

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Prof. Hannah Shafaat

The department welcomes renowned bioinorganic chemist Professor Hannah Shafaat, who will join the UCLA faculty as a Full Professor on July 1, 2023.

Currently a Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Ohio State University, Prof. Shafaat will transition her group to UCLA in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, where her team will combine spectroscopy, theory, and bioinorganic chemistry to study biologically relevant energy conversion reactions.

 “We are excited to welcome Hannah Shafaat to UCLA and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry,” said Professor Miguel García-Garibay, UCLA’s Dean of Physical Sciences. “Prof. Shafaat is a trailblazer in the field of bioinorganic chemistry and her interdisciplinary work is poised to bring a new flavor of science to the department and division.”

Prof. Shafaat’s research program combines the fields of metallobiochemistry and protein engineering with the use of advanced spectroscopic techniques and biophysical/bioanalytical tools. This multidisciplinary approach allows her group to investigate small molecule activation reactions, such as hydrogen production, carbon dioxide reduction, and oxygen activation, in metal-containing protein active sites. Through her innovative research, she is contributing to our understanding of basic scientific questions related to energy conversion and storage, prebiotic organometallic transformations, and the role of metals in pathogenic organisms.

“We are happy to welcome Hannah to UCLA as a colleague,” said Distinguished Kenneth N. Trueblood Professor Neil Garg, the Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Prof. Shafaat is a true leader in her field. We are excited about her teaching and mentoring new cohorts of undergraduate and graduate students, and pushing the boundaries of bioinorganic chemistry research at UCLA.”

Prof. Shafaat expects to build a vibrant and dynamic laboratory at UCLA pursuing biological inorganic chemistry. Her current work involves extensive collaborations with researchers in numerous laboratories both nationally and internationally, adding an extra layer of interdisciplinarity to her current complex and exciting studies. Importantly, she plans to collaborate actively with several research groups in our department, which will further enhance the overall scientific activities in Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“We welcome a new colleague who is interested in small molecule activation through the lens of biological chemistry” said Professor Paula Diaconescu. “It will be exciting to collaborate with her and combine our synthetic skills with her expertise.”

Prof. Shafaat’s work is rooted in the desire to understand basic biology as well as to use this knowledge to address the eminent challenges associated with global climate change and our current inability to convert small molecules with the same efficiency as Nature can.

“It is exciting to have a new colleague who is interested both in inorganic chemistry and protein biochemistry and engineering” said Professor Alex Spokoyny.

Prof. Shafaat’s work combines protein biochemistry and engineering with a diverse toolbox of bioinorganic techniques, including steady-state and time-resolved optical, vibrational, and magnetic spectroscopies, electrochemistry, computational methods, reactivity studies, and crystallography. Her ultimate goal is to establish fundamental structure-function correlations that enable the highly efficient reactivity seen in Nature, with impact and applications that extend from energy and environment to human health to the origins of life and beyond.  

Beyond mentoring her research group, Prof. Shafaat is interested in increasing diversity in science. At Ohio State she was involved with the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation as a faculty mentor for the past five years, working and meeting with incoming college freshmen and transfer students from underrepresented groups in STEM on a monthly basis to facilitate their integration into college life. Prof. Shafaat also led the Breakfast of Science Champions program at Ohio State, bringing Columbus middle-school students into the laboratory to provide hands-on chemistry experiences.

Prof. Shafaat received her B.S. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 2006, where she performed research on spectroscopic endospore viability assays with Dr. Adrian Ponce (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Professor Harry Gray. She received her Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of California, San Diego in 2011, under the direction of Professor Judy Kim, as an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow. During her graduate research, she used many different types of spectroscopy to study the structure and dynamics of amino acid radical intermediates in biological electron transfer reactions. After earning her Ph.D., Prof. Shafaat moved across the ocean to Germany to study hydrogenase proteins and learn advanced EPR techniques as a Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow working under Director Wolfgang Lubitz at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion. She joined the Ohio State University in 2013, received tenure as an Associate Professor in 2019, and was promoted to Full Professor in 2022.

In her independent career, Prof. Shafaat received the NSF CAREER award in 2015 to support work on hydrogenase mimics. In 2017, she was awarded the DOE Early Career award to support the group’s research on one-carbon activation in model nickel metalloenzymes, and Shafaat received support for her research on heterobimetallic Mn/Fe cofactors through the NIH R35 MIRA program for New and Early Stage Investigators. Prof. Shafaat was also awarded the 2018 Sloan Research Fellowship, the 2019 Ed Stiefel Young Investigator Award, and was a 2019 Kavli Fellow. In 2023, Hannah was recognized by the Ohio State Office of Undergraduate Education with the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award.  

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