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Three Eberly College of Science faculty members elected as Fellows of the AAAS

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31 January 2017

Kathleen Postle, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Paul Babitzke, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; and Jorge Sofo, professor of physics and of materials science and engineering, have been named as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed by peers upon members of the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.

Kathleen Postle

Kathleen PostlePostle uses the bacterium Escherichia coli as a model system to learn how signals are sent between the two concentric membranes surrounding gram-negative bacteria, many species of which cause diseases. She studies the mechanism by which a protein called TonB delivers energy to transporters in the bacteria's outer membranes, triggering delivery of essential iron to the bateria. As the U.S. Center for Disease Control has noted, there is an urgent need for new antibiotics and new targets for antibiotics. The TonB system is just such a novel target. Understanding its mechanism may lead to development of new, effective treatments for the diseases these bacteria cause. During a bacterial infection, Gram-negative bacteria can feed on iron in the human body, but if they are unable to get iron, they cannot grow or reproduce.

Postle’s previous honors and awards include an NSF Career Advancement Award for Women in 1991, the American Society for Microbiology Foundation Lectureship award from 1991 to 1992, and being elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2008. She has a lengthy record of service on review panels for both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, with the most recent ending in 2012.

Postle was a professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University from 1994 to 2005 before joining Penn State in 2005. She was an associate professor at Washington State University from 1986 to 1994 and an assistant research professor at the University of California at Irvine from 1982 to 1986. She completed postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Washington and the University of California at Irvine and received her doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Postle received her bachelor's degree in chemistry, magna cum laude, from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio in 1972, where she was recognized as an Outstanding Senior Chemistry Major.

Paul Babitzke

Paul BabitzkeBabitzke's research focuses the regulation of gene expression -- where and when genes are used in a cell -- by RNA structure and RNA-binding proteins. He is interested in the fundamental mechanisms -- elongation and termination -- of how RNA molecules are transcribed from DNA, in addition to investigating a variety of genes in which RNA binding proteins control gene expression by transcription attenuation, repression of translation initiation, and/or mRNA stability.

Babitzke has been director of the Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology Graduate Program at Penn State since 2013 and director of the Center for RNA Molecular Biology in the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences since 2009. He is a member of the AAAS, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society for Microbiology, and the RNA society. He was the keynote speaker at the Federation of European Biochemical Societies - American Society for Microbiology Workshop on the “Biology of RNA in host-pathogen interactions” in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain in 2014 and was honored with the Daniel R. Tershak Memorial Teaching Award in 2009.

Babitzke joined the faculty at Penn State as an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in 1994, became associate professor in 2000, and professor in 2006. Prior to that, he was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University from 1991 to 1994. Babitzke earned a doctoral degree in genetics at the University of Georgia in 1991 and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota in 1984.

Jorge Sofo

Jorge SofoJorge Sofo, professor of physics and of materials science and engineering at Penn State, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed by peers upon members of the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.

Sofo’s research uses theoretical and computational approaches to understand condensed matter physics. He uses quantum mechanics to understand the emergent behavior of interactions between atoms that are responsible for the properties of molecules, biological macro-molecules, artificial nanostructures, surfaces, and bulk materials. Sofo’s work focuses on understand properties such as reactivity, molecular and electronic transport, stability, and optical response of solids, surfaces, clusters and molecules. He develops and applies theoretical and computational methods to link these properties to structures. He uses tools such as Density Functional Theory and other quantum mechanical methods to solve the many-body problem of electrons and atomic nuclei in mutual interaction and to perform molecular dynamics or computer simulations at an atomic scale. Sofo also use methods of quantum field theory in statistical mechanics to study properties at a subatomic scale.

Sofo predicted and named a hydrogenated form of graphene, “graphane”, in a publication that since 2007 has been cited more than 1000 times. His paper “The Best Thermoelectric,” coauthored with his mentor and colleague Gerald Mahan, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Physics at Penn State, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, has guided the search for better thermoelectric materials since 1995.

Sofo’s previous awards include the Cesar Milstein Award -- an award given by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation in Argentina to Argentinian scientists working outside of Argentina -- in 2010 and 2014, and being elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2013.

Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State in 2002 as founding Director of the Materials Simulation Center, Sofo was assistant professor at the Instituto Balseiro in Bariloche, Argentina. Prior to that, he was a research associate at the University of Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National Research Council for Science and Technology of Argentina. Sofo earned a master’s degree in 1988 and a doctoral degree in 1991 in physics at the Instituto Balseiro.

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