Frances Arnold (Image: Caltech)

Frances Arnold, who served on the Santa Fe Institute’s Science Board from 1995-2000, received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year. Arnold is a professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering, and chemistry at Caltech, and was selected for her pioneering work begun in the early 1990s on directed evolution in enzymes. She shares this year’s prize in chemistry with George Smith and Gregory Winter.

In the early 1990s, after struggling to synthesize enzymes, Arnold decided to try using nature’s own tools of evolution. Caltech quoted Frances in a press release saying, “Life—the biological world—is the greatest chemist, and evolution is her design process.” The new enzymes she was able to create through this process of directed evolution have been used to create a variety of products from biofuels to medicines, often replacing toxic chemicals previously used in many processes.

During her time on the science board, Arnold participated in various meetings at SFI. One such meeting, Evolutionary Innovations, provided inspiration for her 2006 PNAS paper, “Protein stability promotes evolvability,” which has become one of her most-cited studies. 

Read the article, "Nobel Prize in Chemistry Goes to a Woman for the Fifth Time in History," in The New York Times (October 3, 2018)