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Biochemist Honored

February 25, 2011 | by Megan Fellman
Jonathan Widom
Jonathan Widom

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Jonathan Widom, the William Deering Professor in Biological Sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, has been named the recipient of the Martin E. and Gertrude G. Walder Award for Research Excellence.

Widom’s research on chromosomal structures within DNA -- and the location of nucleosomes specifically -- has had profound implications for how genes are able to be read in the cell and how mutations outside of the regions that encode proteins can lead to errors and disease.

His current work is focused on discovering the locations of nucleosomes and the principles that govern these locations to better understand and predict when and where along the genome other DNA-binding proteins will act.

He is developing a unified framework to explain how changes in cell state or development can influence nucleosome positions and, conversely, how nucleosome positions can influence cell state and development.

Widom holds appointments in the department of molecular biosciences, the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has supported his research since 1985.

He is principal investigator of Northwestern’s Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, one of 12 established nationwide in 2009 by the National Cancer Institute. The center brings together physical scientists and cancer biologists to use non-traditional, physical-sciences based approaches to understand and control cancer.

A highly regarded teacher of undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, Widom played a major role in the reorganization of the curriculum in biochemistry and biophysics and initiated the University’s NIH Molecular Biophysics Training Program.

He chaired the department of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology (now the department of molecular biosciences) from 1998 to 2004. As director of Northwestern’s Center for Structural Biology from 1994 to 2000, Widom obtained substantial funding from the W. M. Keck Foundation to purchase state-of-the-art instrumentation for the analysis of the biochemical and biophysical properties of proteins.

The Walder Award was established by Dr. Joseph A. Walder, who earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Northwestern in 1972 and an M.D. degree in 1975.

Previous recipients of the Walder Award are Timothy Breen (history), 2002; Mary Zimmerman (performance studies), 2003; Lindsay Chase-Lansdale (education and social policy), 2004; Gary Saul Morson (Slavic languages and literatures), 2005; Prem Kumar (electrical engineering and computer science), 2006; Cynthia Thompson (communication sciences and disorders), 2007; Carol Lee (education and social policy), 2008; and Edward C. Malthouse (integrated marketing communications), 2009.

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