Scientists Cut Ribbon on the Center for Chemical Evolution

Researchers engaged in studying the origins of life celebrated a new $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration yesterday at a gala presided over by Provost Gary Schuster. Researchers will focus their efforts on exploring chemical processes that enable the spontaneous formation of functional polymers -- such as proteins and DNA -- from much smaller and simpler starting materials.

Nick Hud Talks About the Center for Chemical Evolution
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“Our research team seeks to understand how certain molecules in a complex mixture can work together to form highly ordered assemblies that exhibit chemical properties similar to those associated with biological molecules,” said Nicholas V. Hud, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Such a process was likely an essential and early stage of life, so we are also working to understand what chemicals were present on the prebiotic Earth and what processes helped these chemicals form the complex substances ultimately needed for life.”

Hud will direct the effort, which is known as the Center for Chemical Evolution. The five-year grant will support research in more than 15 laboratories at institutions including Georgia Tech, Emory University, the Scripps Research Institute, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Jackson State University, Spelman College, Furman University and the SETI Institute.

All of the researchers will work together to accomplish the Center for Chemical Evolution’s three main research goals:

  • To identify potential biological building blocks among the products of model prebiotic reactions,
  • To investigate the chemical components and conditions that promote the spontaneous assembly of increasingly complex multi-component structures, and
  • To prepare and characterize highly-ordered chemical assemblies, and to study their potential to function like biological substances. 

Representatives from some of the partner institutions and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were on hand to mark the occasion with remarks and a ribbon cutting.

“The Georgia Research Alliance is proud to have at least two of our universities, Georgia Tech and Emory, collaborating with others on this project," said Susan Shows, senior vice president of the Georgia Research Alliance. "There are many groundbreaking programs under way on our campuses – more than my company can support in many cases.  So when federal agencies put competitive funding into a program, it makes it easy for the GRA to know where to invest its strategic dollars."

Other speakers included: Charles Liotta, interim chair of the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech;  Pat Marsteller, director of the Emory College Center for Science Education at Emory University; Loren Williams, director of Tech’s NASA Ribosome Center; Katherine Covert, NSF program director for Integrative Chemistry Activities; and Matthew Platz, incoming director of the NSF Division of Chemistry.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.