Mathias P. Mertes Memorial Lecture Series
Dr. Alanna Schepartz
The T.Z. and Irmgard Chu Distinguished Chair in Chemistry
The 2021 Mertes Memorial Lecturer is Alanna Schepartz, the T. Z. and Irmgard Chu Distinguished Chair and Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Prof. Schepartz received her undergraduate training in chemistry at the State University of New York-Albany and her Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Columbia University under Dr. Ronald Breslow. She spent just under 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech under Dr. Peter B. Dervan, where she began to learn about the then-new field of chemical biology. She joined the faculty at Yale in 1988 as an Assistant Professor, was promoted to the rank of Full Professor in 1995, and was named a Sterling Professor in 2017. In 2019, Prof. Schepartz moved to the University of California, Berkeley. She and her research group are known for creative application of chemical synthesis and logic to probe mechanisms and catalyze discovery in both chemistry and biology. Her research has contributed to and shaped thinking in multiple areas, including the mechanisms of protein-DNA recognition and transcriptional activation; protein design and engineering and their application to synthetic biology; and the complex process by which chemical information is communicated across biological membranes. She is widely recognized for the pioneering design of miniature proteins and b-peptide bundles, the first and only example of a protein-like architecture that lacks even a single a-amino acid. Her current projects focus on (1) repurposing the ribosome to biosynthesize sequence-defined chemical polymers and polyketides; (2) exploring and improving novel tools for trafficking proteins to the cytosol and nucleus for therapeutic applications; (3) understanding the mechanism by which chemical information is transported through cellular membranes; and (4) developing new probes and fluorophores to image organelle dynamics at super-resolution for highly extended times and in multiple colors.
Previous Mertes Memorial Lecturers
About Mathias P. Mertes
Mathias P. Mertes was born in Chicago on April 22, 1932. He was raised in Chicago and prepared early for a career in pharmacy, having delivered prescription drugs on his bicycle for his father's neighborhood pharmacy. He received a B.S. degree in pharmacy from the University of Illinois in 1954. Because of a keen interest in research he entered graduate school at the University of Texas, where he received an M.S. degree in medicinal chemistry with C. O. Wilson in 1956. He subsequently earned a Ph.D. degree with Ole Gisvold from the University of Minnesota in 1960. Upon completion of his Ph.D., Matt accepted a position at the University of Kansas as an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. There he joined Ed Smissman, who had just moved to Kansas as Chair of medicinal chemistry, and who had been an undergraduate instructor of Matt's at the University of Illinois. Matt advanced rapidly in his career, reaching the rank of Professor in 1968. Together, Matt and Ed Smissman built a strong and vigorous department and established many traditions that still persist to this day. Matt continued this legacy after Ed's death in 1974, serving as Chair of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry from 1974-1975.
As a teacher Matt was extremely dedicated, being popular with graduate and undergraduate students alike. He won several teaching awards, including the University of Kansas EXXON Award in 1986 and the Rho Chi Teaching Award presented by students of the School of Pharmacy. Matt was also a finalist for the prestigious H.O.P.E. (Honor for the Outstanding Progressive Educator) Award, an award given annually by the University's senior class. He was also one of the pioneers in advocating and providing continuing education for practicing pharmacists in Kansas, participating with great enthusiasm in continuing education seminar trips around the state. He was also one of the founders of the highly successful medicinal chemistry meeting-in-miniature known affectionately as the MIKI meeting. Since 1963, this meeting has been held annually on a rotating basis among the Universities of Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois.
As a research scholar Matt's interests varied widely. They included: 1) development of methodology for the synthesis of nucleoside, nucleotide, and nucleic acid analogs, 2) studies on thymidylate synthetase model systems and reaction mechanisms including the design and synthesis of thymidylate synthetase inhibitors, 3) the design, synthesis and evaluation of glutamate receptor probes that discriminate between glutamate receptor subtypes, and 4) with his wife, Kristin, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Kansas, polyammonium macrocycle synthesis, ligand complexation, and mechanism of catalysis of formyl phosphate and ATP hydrolysis. Matt received an NIH Career Development Award (1967-72) enabling him to spend one year in the laboratory of F. Sorm at the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences in Prague (nucleic acid chemistry). He also spent six months at the University of Colorado studying in vitro mRNA translation. In 1983, he and Kristin spent a sabbatical in the laboratory of 1987 Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Lehn at Strasbourg. During his career Matt published over 100 scientific papers and directed 23 graduate students to the Ph.D. degree, in addition to training five M.S. students and a number of postdocs. Matt served as Chair of the Division of Medicinal Chemistry of the American Chemical Society in 1978, as Vice-chair in 1977, and served on the Division's membership, long-range planning and membership directory committees. He also served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry and Nucleosides and Nucleotides. His service also included a four-year term on the Medicinal Chemistry A Study Section at NIH and another four-year term on the NIH Biomedical Research Support Committee.
After Matt's untimely death from a heart attack on Thursday, April 6, 1989, Frances Degan Horowitz, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies at Kansas, remarked, "He was always available to help on projects that transcended his lab, his department, his school and his adopted state. He did all this with personal grace, with uncommon gentleness and with generous spirit. Such personal qualities ensure that our memories of an exceptional friend and colleague will remain vivid, inspiring and enduring."
The Mathias P. Mertes Memorial Fund was established by the University of Kansas Endowment Association with contributions from his family, friends, colleagues, students and co-workers to memorialize Matt's dedication to excellence in research and scholarship through a student-initiated lecture series.