Squire Booker honored as an Evan Pugh Professor

May 11, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Squire J. Booker, holder of the Eberly Distinguished Chair in Science and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been named an Evan Pugh Professor, a distinction conferred by the University on only 72 faculty members since the establishment of the designation in 1960.

Named for Penn State’s founding president Evan Pugh, a renowned chemist and scholar who was at the helm of the University from 1859 to 1864, the Evan Pugh Professorships are awarded to faculty members who are nationally or internationally recognized leaders in their fields of research or creative activity; demonstrate significant leadership in raising the standards of the University with respect to teaching, research or creativity, and service; display excellent teaching skills with undergraduate and graduate students who go on to achieve distinction in their fields; and receive support from colleagues who also are leaders in their disciplines.

An advisory committee of seven Penn State faculty members, including three Evan Pugh professors, reviews nominations for the honor and makes recommendations to the University president. Of the 72 Evan Pugh Professors, 29 are still actively teaching and pursuing research or creative work at Penn State.

Booker’s main research interests include deciphering the molecular details by which enzymes — a special class of proteins — catalyze reactions in the cell. He then uses the insight gained to manipulate these reactions for various objectives, ranging from the production of biofuels to the development of antibacterial agents. His laboratory garnered international attention for elucidating a pathway by which disease-causing bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, evade entire classes of commonly used antibiotics. These results were published in three papers in the journal Science, a paper in Nature Chemical Biology, and two papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He is particularly well known for his research on enzymes employing extremely reactive molecules, known as free radicals, to catalyze their reactions.

In 2017, Booker was appointed as Holder of the Eberly Distinguished Chair in Science, one of the highest honors awarded to faculty members in the Penn State Eberly College of Science.

In 2016, he received the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal, which recognizes scholarly or creative excellence through contributions around a coherent theme. In 2015, he was named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a science philanthropy organization dedicated to advancing biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. In 2011, he was honored with an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award by the American Chemical Society, which is given "to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry."

In 2004, Booker was recognized as one of 57 of the country's most promising scientists and engineers by then-U.S. President George W. Bush with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He received the award at the White House in recognition of his research on enzyme reactions, including his work on an enzyme involved in the synthesis of unusual fatty acids that are needed by the bacteria responsible for most cases of tuberculosis. In 2002, he received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the agency's most prestigious award for new faculty members. Booker is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Booker has mentored 17 graduate students, almost 50 undergraduate students, 15 postdoctoral associates and research scientists, and two high-school students. He is known for encouraging students in underrepresented groups to consider science-based careers. Booker has published almost 100 scientific papers in journals such as Science, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and he has served as guest editor for Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, Biochimica Biophysica Acta, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. He is past-chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and was co-organizer of the society's 2016 annual meeting.

Booker earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Austin College in 1987, where he was a Minnie Stevens Piper Scholar, and a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. That same year he was awarded a National Science Foundation–NATO Fellowship for postdoctoral studies at Université René Décartes in Paris, France. Later, in 1996, he was awarded a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship for studies at the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1999.

  • Squire Booker

    Squire Booker

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated May 21, 2018