February 1, 2005
Purdue chemist recognized for job-creating inventions
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A Purdue University researcher whose work has led to 10 patents and improved drug development was honored today (Tuesday, Feb. 1) as a leader in transferring technology from the lab to the marketplace.
R. Graham Cooks, Purdue's Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the College of Science, was recognized for turning his discoveries, including the improved mass spectrometer, into essential analytical instruments as well as jobs for Indiana. Purdue's Office of Engagement presented Cooks with the Outstanding Commercialization Award today to recognize his 10 patents related to mass spectrometry, many now licensed by Indiana companies. Patents and technologies spawned in Cooks' lab today generate royalties and $2 million annually in research funding for Purdue.
"Professor Cooks has single-handedly revolutionized the field of chemistry," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "Quite simply, Graham Cooks is one of the most productive inventors Purdue has ever seen. He has developed and commercialized a truly extraordinary array of technologies that have had a profound impact on the well-being of people worldwide."
Victor L. Lechtenberg, vice provost for engagement, said the award is presented to Purdue faculty who are especially successful at translating Purdue research discoveries into commercial products.
"Among the many Purdue faculty who have used their research to make a difference in our daily lives, Graham Cooks stands out," Lechtenberg said. "His foresight and ability to transform ideas into reality are unparalleled. He also is one of the world's pre-eminent mass spectrometrists."
During the award ceremony, Cooks will deliver a lecture entitled "Making Mass Spectrometers: Commercialization of Analytical Instruments." Cooks will review the interdisciplinary field of mass spectrometry and Purdue's role in its broad range of applications.
Mass spectrometers are one of the most vital pieces of equipment in a modern chemistry or biology lab, and developing them has long been a specialty of Cooks' research team. The generally large machines are widely praised by chemists for their ability to determine the chemical composition of a complex substance by breaking it down and separating its components, each of which has a slightly different mass from the others.
"Mass spectrometry has proven quite good at analyzing successively more complex molecules for the past half-century," Cooks said. "Its ability to characterize and quantify individual chemical components is an essential step in drug development. But about a decade ago, we realized we needed machines that are both smaller in size and gentler on the increasingly fragile molecules pharmaceutical scientists and biotechnologists work with."
Experiments in his lab led to mass spectrometers that could create ions easily and gently and the founding of the Griffin Analytical Technologies in 2001 to manufacture miniaturized versions of mass spectrometers. Griffin now employs 18 people at the Purdue Research Park and sells the devices for approximately $100,000 apiece.
Cooks said he became interested in analytical chemistry as a result of a lecture on birth control given by Carl Djerassi, a professor of chemistry at Stanford University and inventor of the first contraceptive pill. The lecture was given at the University of Natal in South Africa in 1962 and Cooks, as a promising graduate student, was asked to make a formal response.
"This brought me into contact with Djerassi, who questioned me about my research project," Cooks said. "My research involved trying to isolate a pure sample of a particular chemical from a mangrove tree, which involved identifying the tree, cutting it down, chopping it up, extracting it with solvent, separating the hundreds of chemicals, and doing chemical reactions on the pure materials to identify their structures."
Djerassi had just set up a mass spectrometer and offered to look at Cooks' sample after his lecture.
"Two weeks later he sent the structure back to Natal," Cooks said. "This made it clear to me that the answer to impossible questions is mass spectrometry. I have spent my career practicing this philosophy."
A native of South Africa, Cooks received bachelor's and doctoral degrees from the University of Natal in 1961 and 1965, respectively. In 1967 he received a doctoral degree from Cambridge University, England. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge, he joined the faculty at Kansas State University as assistant professor.
Cooks came to Purdue as co-director of the Department of Chemistry's Mass Spectrometry Center in 1971. In 1975 he was named director of the center and associate professor, and in 1980 he was named professor. He was granted his distinguished professorship in 1990. His areas of specialization include instrument development, surface analysis and ion scattering. Cooks is the author or co-author of more than 700 scientific papers and has directed the doctoral research of almost 100 graduate students, many of whom hold positions in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
Cooks also is associated with several research centers located at or affiliated with Purdue, including the Bindley Bioscience Center, the Indiana Instrumentation Institute, Inproteo (formerly the Indiana Proteomics Consortium) and the Center for Sensing Science and Technology.
Among the many honors and awards Cooks has received are the Thomson Medal for Contributions to Mass Spectrometry and American Chemical Society awards in mass spectrometry and in analytical chemistry.
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