November 2020 - Dr. Susan Martinis

Dr. Susan Martinis is the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Illinois, the Stephen G. Sligar Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and is affiliated with the Department of Chemistry, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology. She also served as the head of the Department of Biochemistry. Dr. Martinis's research focuses on RNA structure, evolution, and function, particularly with regards to biomedical applications of protein synthesis and RNA-protein interactions. 

From the University Archives

One of the University of Illinois's more famous professors is Dr. Carl R. Woese, who worked for the Microbiology department from 1963 until his death in 2012. He is most famous for his discovery of Archaea—a domain of life distinct from prokaryotes (organisms that have cells without a nucleus, like bacteria) and eukaryotes (organisms that have cells with a nucleus, including animals, plants, and fungi). Although this finding was extremely controversial among scientists at the time, Woese demonstrated Archaea's unique traits by comparing RNA proteins between organisims in order to understand the way they evolved over time. 

Carl Woese communicated with top scientists in the fields of biophysics and microbiology throughout his life. One of his more frequent correspondences was with Francis Crick, the British scientist co-credited with the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Crick often provided critical feedback on Woese's work, and pushed him to think about the potential weaknesses and problems in his lab reports and journal articles. For example, he proposed a series of questions and revisions for Woese's next draft of a model of RNA structure. 

Dr. Woese remains one of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's most renowned scholars, and he is memorialized at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, which promotes the study of life sciences among scholars from all over the campus.

Although her research focus is different, Dr. Martinis also relies on the study of RNA proteins and structures, especially tRNA-synthetases, in order to address questions of cell function. Similarly, Dr. Martinis is interested in what RNA tells us about evolution, as tRNA synthetases are believed to be among the oldest proteins. 

Please click here to see the digitized Carl Woese Papers, or visit the University Archives to see the rest of the collection