Frances Arnold, 62, the Caltech scientist who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry earlier this month, is the first woman from Caltech to win the prestigious award among 38 recipients from the school.
Only five women have won the Nobel Prize in the field of chemistry since 1911, with Marie Curie winning the prize that year “in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element,” accoprding to nobelprize.org.
Arnold, who won for the directed evolution of enzymes, said she was in a “deep, deep sleep” when awakened by the call in her hotel room in Dallas hours before she was scheduled to give a lecture, according to the Caltech website.
“I am absolutely floored. I have to wrap my head around this. It’s not something I was expecting,” she said in a prepared statement.
Arnold was awarded the prize after being recognized for performing the first-ever directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Enzymes produced through directed evolution are used to manufacture everything from sustainable biofuels to pharmaceuticals.
The enzymes that resulted from Arnold’s research have made it possible to develop new ways to make medicine and more environmentally friendly processes for making industrial chemicals, according to Science Magazine.
Arnold will receive $1 million.
“Frances’s work on directed evolution is a beautiful example of an enterprise that has both deep scientific significance and enormous practical consequences,” said Caltech Provost David A. Tirrell in a prepared statement. “Through decades of commitment to exploring a powerful idea, Frances has transformed the fields of protein chemistry, catalysis, and biotechnology. She has changed the way we think about things and the way we do things.”
Arnold arrived at Caltech as a visiting associate in 1986 and was named assistant professor in 1987. She was named a professor in 1996.
In 2000, she was named the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry; she became the Linus Pauling Professor in 2017. She became the director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center at Caltech in 2013.
A native of Pittsburgh, Arnold received her undergraduate degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 1979
In 1985, she received a graduate degree in chemical engineering from UC Berkeley.