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USIA Fellow Nobel Laureate Joachim Frank

Nobel Laureate Joachim Frank is a Distinguished Honorary & Advisory Fellow Biophysicist of the United Sigma Intelligence Association (USIA).


Joachim Frank is a German-American biophysicist at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate. He is regarded as the founder of single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 with Jacques Dubochet and Richard Henderson. He also made significant contributions to structure and function of the ribosome from bacteria and eukaryotes.

Frank was born in Siegen in the borough of Weidenau. After completing his Vordiplom (B.S.) degree in physics at the University of Freiburg (1963) and his Diplom under Walter Rollwagen's mentorship at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich with the thesis "Untersuchung der Sekundärelektronen-Emission von Gold am Schmelzpunkt" (Investigation of secondary electron emission of gold at its melting point) (1967), Frank obtained his Ph.D. from the Technical University of Munich for graduate studies in Walter Hoppe's lab at the Max Planck Institut für Eiweiss- und Lederforschung (now Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry) with the dissertation Untersuchungen von elektronenmikroskopischen Aufnahmen hoher Auflösung mit Bilddifferenz- und Rekonstruktionsverfahren (Investigations of high-resolution electron micrographs using image difference and reconstruction methods) (1970). The thesis explores the use of digital image processing and optical diffraction in the analysis of electron micrographs, and alignment of images using the cross-correlation function.

As a Harkness postdoctoral fellow, he had the opportunity to study for two years in the United States: with Robert Nathan at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; with Robert M. Glaeser at Donner Lab, University of California, Berkeley and with Benjamin M. Siegel at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. In the fall of 1972 he returned briefly to the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried as research assistant, working on the theory of partial coherence in electron microscopy, then, in 1973, he joined the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge as Senior Research Assistant under Vernon Ellis Cosslett.

In 1975 Frank was offered a position of senior research scientist in the Division of Laboratories and Research (now Wadsworth Center), New York State Department of Health, where he started working on single-particle approaches in electron microscopy. In 1985 he was appointed associate and then (1986) full professor at the newly formed Department of Biomedical Sciences of the University at Albany, State University of New York. In 1987 and 1994, he went on sabbaticals in Europe, one to work with Richard Henderson, Laboratory of Molecular Biology Medical Research Council in Cambridge and the other as a Humboldt Research Award winner with Kenneth C. Holmes, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. In 1998 Frank was appointed investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Since 2003 he was also lecturer at Columbia University, and he joined Columbia University in 2008 as professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and of biological sciences.

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