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Warshel Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

by Laurie Hartzell

Arieh Warshel, a pioneer in the field of computational biophysics and USC College veteran of more than 30 years, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

One of 72 new members selected at the 146th annual meeting of the academy, Warshel joins approximately 2,100 scientists and engineers in this distinguished organization.

Founded in 1863, the National Academy is a private assembly of some of the greatest minds in science. Their collective knowledge is used to further the scientific field and provide expert advice that will influence important governmental decisions and impact the general public.

Members of the National Academy are elected in recognition of their continuing achievements in groundbreaking research.

Warshel, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the College, has been researching at USC since 1976. His field, which he co-founded in 1967, focuses on using computer programs to study large molecules.

Since 1973, he has been modeling the functions of biological molecules with the goal of understanding how life processes operate on the protein level.

Warshel and his collaborators have developed several of the most effective models for these computer simulations, and he is credited with introducing the field now known as computational enzymology.

“One of the unique aspects of my work is identifying how proteins really work,” Warshel said. “Unfortunately, you can’t figure out how they work without a computer model.”

Since their inception, Warshel has worked with many types of computers. He and his team often had to overcome the limitations of the current computer generation to accomplish their research goals.

“We would attack really complicated questions and try to find a way to solve them before the solution was known, before we had enough computer power to do everything by a rigorous brute force approach. In almost all cases, we were eventually found to be on the right track,” he said.

Warshel noted that the high performance computer cluster at USC is beneficial for asking questions on a larger scale and exploring problems such as enzyme design and drug resistance, which require enormous computer time and are now within his team’s reach.

In addition to this recent election, Warshel received the Tolman Medal from the Southern California section of the American Chemical Society in 2003. He is also an elected fellow of the Biophysical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Warshel is highly cited in the scientific community and has an H-index of 88. The H-index is considered one of the best average measures of scientists’ impact and is based on the number of cited papers and citations they receive in the publications of others.

“An award is measured by the difficulty of getting it,” he said, acknowledging that being elected to the National Academy is a singular honor bestowed on just a few scientists each year. “It’s nice to be recognized.”

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