Cross honored for contributions in chemistry

Timothy A. Cross

A Florida State University biochemist whose work mapping the surfaces of bacteria and viruses could one day lead to the development of drugs capable of controlling such potentially deadly diseases as tuberculosis and the flu has been honored as one of the top scholars in his field in the southeastern United States.

Timothy A. Cross, the Earl Frieden Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Florida State and director of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Program at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, has been selected to receive the 2010 Florida Award by the Florida Local Section of the American Chemical Society. The award recognizes leadership and contributions toward the advancement of the profession of chemistry.

"I am honored to have been selected for this award," Cross said. "I have many deserving colleagues here at FSU as well as at the other institutions throughout Florida, but the honor really goes to my students and postdocs who have done all of the work — not only the challenging physical activities of preparing samples, conducting sophisticated experiments and analyzing data, but in many cases designing the experiments and challenging assumptions and hypotheses in the literature. I have been fortunate to have many bright people in my group who make me look good."

The Florida Award was established in 1952 and is given each year at the annual scientific meeting of the Florida Local Section of the American Chemical Society. To be considered for the award, a nominee must live in the Southeast and must have made outstanding contributions to teaching, research, publications or service in advancing the chemistry profession.

"None of this work is done in a vacuum," Cross said of his research. "I have many colleagues whom I turn to for advice and help in the departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Mathematics and Physics at Florida State, as well as colleagues at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Without this stimulating environment and the excellent instrumentation resources we have here, the achievements my group have made would not have been possible."

For winning the award, Cross will receive a plaque and $500, as well as travel expenses for the purpose of attending the Florida Local Section’s Annual Meeting and Exposition on May 13-16 at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club near Tampa. Cross will also be the conference’s plenary speaker.

"Professor Cross has had a sustained and distinguished track record in researching the structure and properties of membrane proteins," said Joseph Schlenoff, Florida State’s Mandelkern Professor of Polymer Science and chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "His most notable recent accomplishments are in the area of flu and tuberculosis proteins. These studies will help us find ways to combat these pervasive diseases."

A member of the Florida State University chemistry faculty since 1984, Cross is a pioneer in the development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques that allow for extraordinarily precise imaging of the proteins that coat bacterial cells and viruses. By contributing to an increased understanding of the chemistry, structure and function of these proteins, he and his research team are building up a body of knowledge that one day could lead to the creation of more effective drugs for treating diseases such as influenza type A and tuberculosis that kill millions of people around the world each year.

"Finding molecules that can effectively bind to the surface of these proteins and deactivate them is an essential step in developing new drugs to combat them," Cross said.

In addition to serving on the Florida State faculty, Cross has led the magnet lab’s NMR user program for all but a few years since its inception 20 years ago. It fact, most of his team’s research utilizes the lab’s giant, extremely powerful magnets.

"The scientific team that Tim has assembled has brought the NMR program to international prominence for research ranging from protein structure to MRIs of mouse brains," said Gregory Boebinger, director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. "Our success in NMR probe and technique development also has attracted the attention and envy of many leading NMR companies. Tim has a scientific vision and drive for excellence that I greatly appreciate, and this award is a wonderful testimony to his talents and accomplishments."

This is just the latest professional honor to come Cross’ way. In 2007, he was named a fellow of the prestigious Biophysical Society; fewer than one in 1,000 members of the society receive such recognition each year. He also received the Earl Frieden Professorship at Florida State in 2003 and was named a Distinguished Research Professor in 2001.

Over the past two years, Cross and his research team have received more than $5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to map the surface of the tuberculosis bacterium and identify specific proteins that could be targeted in the fight against the disease, which kills nearly 2 million people around the world annually.

Cross becomes the 15th faculty member at Florida State to receive the Florida Award.