Seventh Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics Workshop

Dr. Ruben Gonzalez Jr.
Ruben Gonzalez is a Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University. He is a first-generation Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, FL. Ruben graduated cum laude from Florida International University (FIU) with a B.S. in Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1995. While at FIU, Ruben conducted undergraduate research with Prof. Stephen Winkle in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where he investigated the thermodynamics and kinetics of protein and carcinogen binding to unusual DNA structures. Ruben next moved to the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley to conduct his doctoral research with Prof. Ignacio Tinoco. While in Prof. Tinoco’s laboratory, Ruben’s research interests focused on the structure and thermodynamics of a specific RNA structure, known as an RNA pseudoknot, which is involved in the translational control of gene expression in many viruses. In particular, Ruben was interested in how specific binding of divalent metal ions stabilize RNA pseudoknot structures. Upon obtaining his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2000, Ruben moved to Stanford University where he conducted postdoctoral research as an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratories of Prof. Joseph D. Puglisi in the Department of Structural Biology and the former United States Secretary of Energy Prof. Steven Chu in the Department of Physics and Applied Physics. While at Stanford, Ruben helped integrate expertise from Profs. Puglisi’s and Chu’s laboratories in order to pioneer the first single-molecule fluorescence investigations of the ribosome, the universally-conserved RNA-based molecular machine responsible for protein synthesis in all living cells. Ruben joined the Department of Chemistry at Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in 2006 and was promoted to Associate Professor without Tenure in 2011, to Associate Professor with Tenure in 2012, and to Full Professor in 2015. Research in his laboratory focuses on the biophysical chemistry and biochemistry of nature’s molecular machines, with significant emphases on fundamental biological processes executed by RNA- and ribonucleoprotein (RNP)-based machines. Ruben serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Molecular Biology, as a Regular Member and rising Chairperson of the Molecular Genetics A Study Section at the National Institutes of Health, and has most recently has been elected to the General Council of the Biophysical Society. Research in Ruben’s laboratory has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, an American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award, a Columbia University RISE Award, a Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award, a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, and, most recently, Ruben has been selected as a Scientist to Watch by The Scientist and as a finalist for a Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists.


Dr. Paloma Giangrande

Dr. Paloma Giangrande is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at The University of Iowa and an internationally recognized expert in drug design and delivery. She obtained her PhD in Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University in 1999. Her first postdoctoral position was in Genetics under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Nevins, where she elucidated the roles of E2F transcription factors in cell cycle control. In 2004, she became interested in translational research and joined Dr. Bruce Sullenger’s lab in the Department of Surgery at Duke where she focused on developing RNA aptamers for targeted therapies. In 2007 she was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Iowa. She was promoted to Associate Professor of Medicine in 2013. Dr. Giangrande’s research focuses on elucidating mechanisms of deregulated cell growth and survival and applying this knowledge to develop cell-targeted therapies (“smart drugs”) with improved efficacy and safety profiles over current drugs in the clinic. The technology she developed and pioneered employs RNA bio-drugs that deliver potent drug payloads to diseased cells for treating diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and critical illness.


Dr. José Onuchic

José Onuchic is the Harry C & Olga K Wiess Chair of Physics and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and Biosciences at Rice University. He is also the co-Director of the NSF-sponsored Center for Theoretical Biological Physics and a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research (Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas).

His main scientific goal is to lead the biological physics community as it attempts to devise an integrated picture of a variety of model biochemical and biological systems. His research has expanded across the scales of molecular-level interactions to cellular systems to organized multi-cellular structures. At Rice he is moving this view towards medical applications focusing on cancer. In protein folding, he has introduced the concept of protein folding funnels as a mechanism for the folding of proteins. Convergent kinetic pathways, or folding funnels, guide folding to a unique, stable, native conformation. Energy landscape theory and the funnel concept provide the theoretical framework needed to pose and to address the questions of protein folding and function mechanisms. He also works on the theory of chemical reactions in condensed matter with emphasis on biological electron transfer. He is also interested in stochastic effects in genetic networks. His research has shown how each bacterium performs a sophisticated decision process by using a network of genes and proteins. Connections between bacteria decision-making in a colony with cancer are being explored. Further expanding his ideas coming from energy landscapes for protein folding, his group is now exploring chromatin folding and function.

He has received many honors for his scientific contributions. In 1989 he was awarded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics Prize in honor of Werner Heisenberg in Trieste, Italy, and in 1992 he received the Beckman Young Investigator Award. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society. In 2006 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, USA and in 2009 fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. In 2011 he was awarded the Einstein Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and in 2012 he has been elected Fellow of the Biophysical Society. In 2014 he received the Diaspora Prize from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industrial Development and Foreign Trade from Brazil. In 2015 he received the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) Medal.


Dr. Marina Ramirez-Alvarado

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado is a Mexican born US biophysicist. She received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s in biotechnology from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. She then studied her PhD at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. She conducted postdoctoral research at Yale University and started as an assistant professor at the Mayo Clinic 15 years ago. She is a world’s expert in the biophysics of light chain amyloidosis, an understudied and fatal misfolding disease.


Dr. Arthur Pardi

Arthur Pardi studied Chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, where he obtained an A.B. in Chemistry in 1976. He obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980 working with I. Tinoco, Jr., where he used biophysical methods to study the thermodynamic and kinetic properties of DNA and RNA duplexes. He then did a postdoctoral fellowship with K. Wüthrich at the ETH, Zürich, where he performed 2D NMR studies of protein and DNA systems. Dr. Pardi joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1988, where he is currently Full Professor. Prof. Pardi has received various awards including: Searle Scholar Award, Johnson & Johnson Discovery Research Award, NIH Research Career Development Award and NIH Merit Award. His research focuses on studies of the structure, function, and dynamics of proteins and RNA. Pardi’s group is presently using NMR spectroscopy to study nucleic acid aptamers that are potent inhibitors of the angiogenic protein VEGF. Prof. Pardi’s group also uses single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy techniques to probe the kinetics of folding of RNAs.