The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in Pohang, South Korea, have announced a partnership that will catalyze discoveries with a major impact on health care and clean energy applications.
Scientists at both universities will work together to outfit a powerful new facility, the X-ray Free Electron Laser at the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (PAL-XFEL), to discover and understand important biological molecules for new health care and renewable energy research.
“POSTECH’s rapid rise as a world-class research institution makes them an exceptional partner to move this research ahead,” said Raymond DuBois, executive director of the Biodesign Institute. “The ASU-POSTECH collaboration will tackle a wide range of urgent biological problems, from accelerating the pipeline for new drug discovery and development to battle cancer and infectious diseases to unraveling the secrets of photosynthesis to make cheap and efficient worldwide renewable energy production a reality.”
“This new partnership with ASU would speed up the transformation of innovative research into real-world solutions,” said Yongmin Kim, president of POSTECH, which was the first research-oriented university in Korea and has been the No. 1-ranked university in the world under 50 years old from 2012-2014. “Founded upon a mission to serve the nation and humanity, POSTECH places strong emphasis on new value creation through education, research and commercialization endeavors in collaboration with industry.”
The outcomes of this research are expected to inspire the next generation of scientists, train a highly skilled work force, launch new businesses and create high-wage jobs in both South Korea and the U.S.
Kim recently visited ASU, meeting with faculty and administrators to learn more about ASU, including research in electrical and computer engineering for medical imaging and consumer health care. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and former chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Bioengineering, Kim is a distinguished researcher with more than 450 publications and about 75 patents.
A Biodesign delegation visited POSTECH earlier this year, signing a Memorandum of Understanding, meeting with faculty of common research interests, and taking a tour of POSTECH’s research infrastructure including the POSTECH Biotech Center and PAL-XFEL.
The $400 million PAL-XFEL facility, set to begin commissioning in early 2016, is being designed and built by a team led by In Soo Ko. It will become just the third of its kind in the world, after the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford University and the Spring-8 Angstrom Compact free electron Laser (SACLA) in Hyogo, Japan.
“When LCLS and SACLA were built, the significant impact XFELs would have on biology research wasn’t known, so there is a unique opportunity today to make the PAL-XFEL a premier destination for biological research with free electron lasers,” said Petra Fromme, director of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, who will lead the ASU team.
Fromme is a biochemist with more than 20 years of experience in the field of membrane protein X-ray crystallography, a variation of the same technique that was used to help solve the structure of DNA. She leads a team of researchers at ASU, along with distinguished international collaborators, who helped pioneer the use of XFELs for biology research in 2009.
XFEL science has the potential to change the way we understand structural biology, a scientific field that combines chemistry, physics and biology to understand the inner workings of key molecules and processes of life at an unprecedented, atomic level scale. XFEL technology opens the door to new levels of understanding because the X-ray source is more powerful (up to 10 billion times stronger) than conventional sources, enabling researchers to view molecular dynamics at a time-scale never before observed.
“This partnership brings together POSTECH’s deep expertise in developing, constructing and operating state-of-the-art high energy X-ray beamlines with ASU’s expertise in adapting biological X-ray crystallography for XFELs,” said Fromme.
The joint ASU-POSTECH venture will also entail a vibrant exchange of ideas that is facilitated through joint conferences, colloquia and symposia, joint publications and intellectual property and by cross-training students and researchers to be future global scientific leaders.
“POSTECH’s trailblazing accomplishments as a home to more than 70 research institutes, coupled with ASU’s pioneering work in structural biology and XFEL creates a powerful partnership that will have significant impacts,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU. “These will range from scientific discoveries to educating the next generation of scientists to advancing the economies in both of our countries.”