Graham Fleming to Head New
Physical Biosciences Division

October 17, 1997

By Lynn Yarris, [email protected]

With an eye toward fostering stronger interactions with UC Berkeley in the physical and biological sciences, Lab Director Charles Shank has announced the creation of a new Physical Biosciences Division to replace the old Structural Biology Division. Appointed to head this new division is Graham Fleming, 47, a physical chemist who recently joined the UCB faculty after 18 years at the University of Chicago.

Graham Fleming, head of the new Physical Biosciences Division, gets settled in his new office -- Melvin Calvin's one-time work space.
"The Physical Biosciences Division (PBD) is being established to explore the growing synergy between advances in the physical sciences and modern biology," Shank said in a statement. "We intend to bring the tools of the physical sciences to elucidate important problems in biology."

In his announcement, Shank thanked Sung-Hou Kim for his service as director of the Structural Biology Division for the past eight years. Kim will continue to head Structural Biology Research, one of four new departments within PBD. The others are Computational and Theoretical Biology, Advanced Microscopies, and Biological Dynamics.

"We will look to PBD for creating novel approaches and deeper understanding of biological phenomena," Shank said.

A native of England, Fleming obtained his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of London in 1974. He worked as a research fellow at Cal Tech and the University of Melbourne (Australia) before going to the University of Chicago. A stellar career there, which included more than 200 publications and a plethora of honors, stamped him as an international authority on the application of femtosecond spectroscopy to chemical and biological phenomena.

Fleming's latest work has focused on observing the primary energy transfer steps in photosynthesis, a remarkably efficient process that occurs within 200 femtoseconds (a femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second).

"Nature has achieved an energy transfer efficiency of approximately 97 percent, and we'd like to know how this is done," says Fleming, whose new office, fittingly enough, was once the office of Melvin Calvin, winner of the 1961 Nobel prize in chemistry for identifying the role of carbon in photosynthesis.

In applying his femtosecond spectroscopy techniques to large groups of chlorophyll molecules called "light harvesting complexes," Fleming has already gained new insight into their remarkable energy-transfer efficiency and learned how carotenoid molecules help direct incoming energy from sunlight into the optimal electronic pathways.

Fleming is married to Jean McKenzie, a reference librarian. They have a son, Matthew, 9, and currently reside in Oakland. As director of PBD, he looks forward to "broadening divisional interests to bring the full range of physical sciences to bear on important biological problems."

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