KLAUS BIEMANN RECEIVES BECKMAN-ABRF AWARD


One of the ABRF's primary goals is to promote research and development of methods, technologies, and instrumentation relevant to the analysis and synthesis of biomolecules. The generous support of Beckman Instruments, Inc. enabled the ABRF to establish this award to recognize outstanding contributions in the development of instrumentation and methodology for the biological sciences.

 

Klaus Biemann, Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received the 1995 Beckman-ABRF Award for his seminal contributions to the development of mass spectrometry and its application to the biological sciences. This award was presented during the ABRF meeting on Saturday, July 8, 1995 in Boston, MA.

 

Dr. Biemann has pioneered the application of mass spectrometry to the biological sciences for nearly forty years. A native of Austria, Dr. Biemann received his Ph.D. in chemistry at Innsbruck. He came to MIT as a post-doctoral fellow with George Buchi and worked on the synthesis and structure of natural products. In 1956 Dr. Biemann was asked to attend a conference on food flavors by the company that was supporting his work with Buchi. Although he had no scientific interest in food flavors, he was inspired by a talk describing the use of mass spectrometry to identify fruit flavor components and began investigating applying mass spectrometry to his natural products. As a recently appointed Instructor in Analytical Chemistry, he quickly recognized that mass spectrometry would allow him to develop his previous work on natural products along an analytical path appropriate for his new position. As he describes it, "The fact that I had no practical experience was an advantage, as it did not deter me, contrary to contemporary wisdom, from planning to put comparatively large and polar molecules, such as alkaloids and derivatives of amino acids and peptides, into the mass spectrometer." This was the beginning of an extremely productive career.

 

Dr. Biemann soon combined his new interest in mass spectrometry with his ongoing one in peptide sequencing. In fact, his first paper in mass spectrometry, published in 1959, demonstrated for the first time that mass spectrometry could be used to define the amino acid sequence of peptides. It described a method for reducing the polyamide backbone of peptides to polyamino alcohols, which were volatile enough for GC-mass spectrometry.

 

Under his leadership, his research laboratory developed and refined mass spectrometric methods for obtaining detailed structural information on biomolecules over the next two decades. A key component of turning mass spectrometry into a routine analytical technique was the improvement of methods for recording and interpreting spectra, including repetitive scanning techniques, computer control, computer library search, mass chromatograms, and enhanced selected ion chromatograms. All these are contributions from Dr. Biemann's laboratory.

 

When fast atom bombardment methods were invented in the late 1970's, Dr. Biemann quickly applied these to peptide sequencing. Among his group's accomplishments are the development of tandem mass spectrometry into a useful technique for peptide analysis, which involved elucidation of the fragmentation behavior of peptides in the mass spectrometer, as well as the development of array detector technology to improve sensitivity and sophisticated computer algorithms for analyzing the data. His work on peptide structure analysis was recognized in 1992 by the Pehr Edman award. Don Hunt, one of his former students, was also honored at the same time.

 

Technical achievements are only one type of output from Dr. Biemann's laboratory. Dr. Biemann has been the Director of the NIH-sponsored Mass Spectrometry Facility at MIT since its inception in 1966. This facility has provided thousands of NIH-funded investigators with crucial mass data for their chemical and biological studies. Dr. Biemann has trained over 130 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, many of whom have become leaders in the field of mass spectrometry.

 

Dr. Biemann's achievements have developed mass spectrometry to its present capabilities of providing rapid structural information on large biomolecules. This technology now makes it possible to ask scientific questions that could not be approached before. Dr. Biemann's accomplishments truly exemplify the spirit of the Beckman-ABRF award.

 


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Created: 11th September 1995
Last modified: 11th October 1995