Alexey Silakov, assistant professor of chemistry, has been honored with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), in recognition of his structural and mechanistic studies of a novel group of oxygen-tolerant [FeFe] hydrogenases—incredibly reactive enzymes that can produce hydrogen at a staggering rate.
The CAREER award is the NSF's most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. The award will provide five years of funding to support Silakov’s research to develop new tools to examine the effects of stresses on proteins in live cells and to investigate the factors that enable oxygen-tolerance in hydrogenases.
“I am happy to receive this award,” said Silakov. “Through this work, we will identify similar enzymes and expand the library of oxygen-tolerant [FeFe] hydrogenases. Also, we are excited about the opportunity to involve high-school and undergraduate students in project-related outreach activities.”
“Alexey’s work on oxygen-tolerant hydrogenases and its associated outreach, will bring great distinction to the department. We are very happy for him and his research group,” added Department of Chemistry Head Phil Bevilacqua.
Silakov’s research interests lie in the interplay between bioinorganic chemistry, physical chemistry and structural biology. His lab establishes novel spectroscopic methodologies that aim to provide the most complete electronic and structural information concerning the catalytically active (metal) centers of enzymes that are of interest to medical and renewable energy fields. Establishing the relationship between structure and function is one of the key problems in enzymology.
Work in the Silakov lab has allowed for the discovery of a novel group of oxygen-tolerant [FeFe] hydrogenase enzymes that produce hydrogen. Hydrogen gas is growing in demand as an energy resource, but it is currently produced from non-renewable sources, which is both costly and environmentally harmful. There is therefore great interest in utilizing these enzymes in hydrogen production.
Silakov 's previous awards and honors include the John Weil Young Investigator Award of the International EPR Society in 2011 and 58th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Physics in 2008.
Prior to joining the Penn State faculty in 2012, Silakov was a postdoctoral researcher and earned a doctoral degree at the Max-Planck Institute for Bioinorganic Chemistry in Germany.