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Dr. Gary Baker Wins Award

Dr. Gary Baker Wins Postdoctoral Distinguished Performance Award

Dr. Gary Baker of C-SIC has won the Los Alamos Postdoctoral Distinguished Performance Award for his work with ionic liquids.  Baker, who is a Frederick Reines Postdoctoral fellow, has been at Los Alamos since October 2001. His explorations range from fundamental understanding of solubility and stability of biomolecules in ionic liquids to developing new analytical tools such as molecular optical thermometers to novel materials based on sol-gel ionic liquid hybrids.  Baker has been the primary on these projects from the idea generation stage, to instrumentation set up, to the interpretation of results.


Dr. Gary Baker places a sample in a fluorimeter.

During his time at Los Alamos, he has authored over a dozen journal articles (the majority on which he is either first or corresponding author), three book chapters, and  one patent.  According to his mentor, Dr. Mark McCleskey, “during this time he has been in the laboratory conducting experiments at all hours.  He has an amazing work ethic and the ability to multi-task at a phenomenal level that allows him to actively pursue several different projects at once from sol-gel formation with ionic liquids to protein stability in ionic liquids to surface enhanced Raman.” 

One of his intriguing results published last year is the enhanced stability he has observed for the protein monellin in an emerging class of ionic liquid. Researchers have recently reported solubilizing proteins in ionic liquids and have carried out a few enzymatic reactions, but no one had examined the structure or stability of the proteins prior to this.  This work could open up an enormous area of biocatalysis in ionic liquids.  The stability that Baker has seen with this model protein suggests that by solubilizing typical enzymes within an ionic liquid, stability similar to that seen for enzymes from thermophilic bacteria isolated from ocean vents may be observed.  There are two tremendous implication of this work.  One is the potential for increasing the stability of proteins in a new solvent that will allow for longer-lived biocatalysts that can be used at elevated temperatures.  The second is the ability to study the fundamentals of protein folding, hydration, dynamics, and stability within low-water activity media. The insights that could be gained in understanding protein folding are thought to be significant.

“He has helped form a bridge between biology and chemistry that has brought ionic liquid work in the Chemistry Division together with protein work in the Biology Division. ”

-- Dr. Mark McCleskey

Baker has also identified a method for simple modification of proteins to greatly enhance their solubility in some ionic liquids.  This work has resulted in concentrations high enough for spectroscopic studies that were heretofore not possible including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and Fourier-transform infrared (FT-IR) studies. The ionic liquids being used are stable over a large temperature range and have a remarkable electrochemical window that should make it possible to observe reactive catalytic intermediates of proteins that are very difficult to observe in the aqueous milieu. 

The Postdoctoral Distinguished Performance Awards recognizes outstanding and unique contributions by Lab postdocs that result in a positive and significant impact on the Laboratory's programmatic or scientific efforts or status in the scientific community. It also recognizes unusual creativity, innovation, or dedication and level of performance substantially beyond that which would normally be expected.

 

5/05


 
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