Steve is very interested in structural biology methods that let us see "molecular movies" -- i.e. how molecular machines like enzymes actually work. Diffuse scattering is one such method that he’s worked on with Nozomi Ando's group. But he’s also interested in using time-resolved techniques to include more types of perturbations, such as temperature, pressure, and electric fields. He started time-resolved SAXS techniques with Lois Pollack's group, and one long-term goal is to bring those techniques to CHESS as a user program, both for SAXS and MX.
Learn more about the newest CHESS Staff Scientist below.
Could you share a bit about your background and interests?
I grew up in San Jose, CA. I've always loved to build things, and in high school I managed to get a summer job at SLAC in the vacuum group. The job was tedious -- mostly sorting screws -- but it was extremely exciting to be in a synchrotron lab and it clearly made a lasting impression! I did my undergraduate studies at Carleton College in Minnesota majoring in physics. After graduating I went to Cornell for my PhD and joined Lois Pollack's group in Applied and Engineering Physics to study biophysics of RNA folding. The research environment was a dream come true for me. It was an engineering department so I could make stuff, I got to stretch myself by learning molecular biology, and we did exciting non-conventional SAXS experiments at CHESS. I then did a postdoc in Nozomi Ando's group in Chemistry at Princeton (the group soon moved to Cornell), where I learned crystallography and anaerobic technique for structural biology of metalloenzymes. I also developed new X-ray methods to study dynamic proteins, including deconvolution techniques for SAXS and diffuse X-ray scattering analysis for protein crystallography.
What are you most proud of in your previous work at the Ando Lab?
I'm most proud of the protein diffuse scattering work in the Ando group. Diffuse scattering is a pattern that is present in the background of diffraction images from crystals. It occurs whenever disorder is present, and in the case of protein crystals, this disorder includes the internal motions of the proteins that can occur despite being arranged in a lattice. Protein dynamics are important in many enzyme functions, such as catalysis and regulation, but it's been extremely challenging to study enzyme dynamics experimentally. Our goal was to take advantage of diffuse scattering to do just that. When we started 8 years ago, very little was known about where protein diffuse scattering came from. A key insight came when we collected exceptionally high quality data at CHESS showing that phonon-like lattice vibrations were clearly important. It took many trips to CHESS and many years but we eventually developed the theory, software, and experimental methods necessary to tease apart the lattice vibrations from protein motions of interest. I’m proud of my graduate student mentees in the Ando lab who are now applying diffuse scattering to do exciting new science. Stay tuned!
What are you most excited about by coming to CHESS?
One of the joys of being a CHESS user is the complete absence of barriers to try something new. This environment has attracted an amazing community of users doing cutting-edge research as well as scientific and technical staff that are extremely resourceful and creative. Being situated at a university, CHESS always has students and postdocs around who bring new energy and keep fresh ideas coming in. I most look forward to working with this community every day.
I'll be supporting the research done at the FlexX beamline, which includes many unusual flavors of macromolecular crystallography including diffuse scattering, serial crystallography, and high pressure crystallography. I'm excited to work with the MacCHESS team to develop these cutting-edge techniques. And I'm excited to share with our users the excitement of discovery that goes along with science at the frontier.