Pioneering chemist named FSU’s 2006 Lawton Distinguished Professor

Alan G. Marshall, a world-acclaimed scientist who has made outstanding contributions to the field of analytical chemistry, is set to receive Florida State University’s highest faculty honor.

Marshall, FSU’s Kasha Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has been named the 2006-2007 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. FSU President T.K. Wetherell will present him with the award on Friday, April 28, during the university’s first of two spring commencement ceremonies.

"Needless to say, this is a daunting honor," Marshall said. "As I look over the names of previous Lawton professors, I see that some of the most highly regarded scholars in their fields are represented—including Michael Kasha, for whom my own professorship is named. To be considered worthy of inclusion in such an accomplished group is both thrilling and humbling."

Marshall is widely known throughout the world’s scientific community as the co-inventor of Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectrometry, one of the most informative methods available for chemical analysis. The technique, which allows researchers to simultaneously separate and identify more than 10,000 separate chemical constituents within a single sample, has had a tremendous impact on research in areas as diverse as biomedicine, chemistry and petroleum analysis.

Marshall’s own research has led to greater understanding of the chemical mechanisms involved in several key areas, among them:

  • Biochemistry. "As one example, we have identified a number of Alzheimer’s disease ‘marker’ proteins in cerebrospinal fluid," Marshall said. "A greater understanding of the molecular issues at work with Alzheimer’s and other diseases could lead to earlier diagnosis and new treatments."
  • Counterterrorism. "We’re working to advance forensic identification and matching of a given chemical or biological warfare agent to its source based on a complex ‘fingerprint’ of the organic constituents of the agent," Marshall said. "For example, we have identified various arson accelerants by comparing samples before and after a fire—and military explosives by comparing post-blast to pre-blast samples."
  • Drug-Protein Interactions. "FT-ICR mass spectrometry gives us a very powerful way to probe the interaction between drugs and proteins," Marshall said. "Understanding exactly how specific drugs cross cellular membranes is an important step in developing newer and even more effective medications."
  • Petroleum Analysis. "Our work on crude oil and its distillates has spawned a new field known as ‘petroleomics.’ Essentially, these substances are staggeringly complex—a single heavy petroleum sample may contain more than 30,000 chemical substances. Understanding the chemistry of petroleum products will lead to more-efficient oil extraction techniques and allow for more reliable identification of the sources of petroleum spills. It’s a good example of how basic research has spawned very practical and economically important applications."

Gregory S. Boebinger, the director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, described Marshall as one of the most respected scientists in his field.

"Alan is acknowledged worldwide as the authority on Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry," he said, "which is the best technique by far for analyzing complex molecules when they are mixed together in a fluid, as they are often found in our cells and in the world around us. Many of the most promising technologies of the 21st century will be reliant on our deeper understanding of these complex fluids.

"Alan’s research group is moving into so many exciting directions that they are one of the biggest highlights of the magnet lab’s research program," Boebinger added. "He is a great ambassador for the critical role that high magnetic fields play in modern research and the world-class chemical research taking place at Florida State University."

A member of the faculty of FSU’s department of chemistry and biochemistry since 1993, Marshall also directs the Ion Cyclotron Resonance (ICR) Program at the magnet lab. During his 13 years at FSU and the lab, Marshall has been accorded a remarkable 10 national and international awards. He has brought in more than $17 million in external funding to FSU and the magnet lab as a principal investigator, another $8.5 million as a contributor to grants for other FSU investigators, and is one of the co-principal investigators for the magnet lab’s current $117.5-million, five-year National Science Foundation grant.

More than 650 mass-spectrometry instruments based on Marshall’s three patents have been installed worldwide, representing a capital investment of more than $350 million. In addition, Marshall’s research group at the magnet lab holds all of the current world records for high-resolution mass analysis.

Further evidence of his stature in his field are the more than 420 refereed papers he has published (as lead or contributor) and the more than 1,275 research talks he has presented around the globe.

To read about even more of Marshall’s professional accomplishments, please see

Another of Marshall’s colleagues described his selection for the Lawton professorship as richly deserved.

"FSU has received so much from him, in so many ways, that it’s time he was repaid, in part, for his efforts," said John G. Dorsey, FSU’s Katherine Blood Hoffman Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor award is the highest honor that FSU faculty can bestow on a colleague. It is named in honor of the late Vice President for Academic Affairs Robert O. Lawton. A longtime and highly esteemed member of the FSU faculty, he died in 1980.