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World-Renowned Chemist Graham Cooks Will Speak at Izatt-Christensen Lecture

Photo courtesy of Graham Cooks

“It’s hard to say who’s the top mass spectrometrist in the world, but it’s probably Graham Cooks,” BYU chemistry professor David Dearden said.

Renowned chemist R. Graham Cooks will speak at the annual Reed M. Izatt and James J. Christensen Lecture at BYU on March 20 and 21. Cooks has made significant contributions in every area of mass spectrometry, according to BYU chemistry professor Daniel Austin, who knows Cooks personally.

BYU is honored to welcome this Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He has worked at Purdue University for 46 years, published more than 1,100 papers, and received 40 patents. Cooks will speak to students and community members about mass spectrometry and its applications.

Both Dr. Austin and Dr. Dearden call Cooks a great speaker.

“He’s really good at taking scientific ideas and making it so you see how they’re going to relate to everyday life and real problems,” Austin said. “It’s just fascinating to hear him talk.”

Cooks will give his general lecture on Monday, March 20. Titled “Mass Spectrometry (MS): Synthesis and Analysis for the Greater Good,” the lecture will cover examples of mass spectrometry drawn from forensics, food safety, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and drug screening.

A more in-depth lecture, titled “Mass Spectrometry (MS): Instrumentation and Chemistry,” will take place Tuesday, March 21. In this lecture, Cooks will discuss the correlation between chemistry and instrumentation.

Both lectures will be held at 4:00 p.m. in room W111 of the Ezra Taft Benson Building.

Cooks is one of the most-cited chemists worldwide, according to Clarivate Analytics. He received his first PhD in 1965 from the University of Natal, South Africa, and then his second from the University of Cambridge in 1967.

His specialty, mass spectrometry, identifies and quantifies molecules in mixtures by converting those molecules into ions and measuring their mass-to-charge ratio. Cooks improved this method by introducing tandem mass spectrometry, a direct analysis where ions are separated into fragments that reveal aspects of the ions’ structures. Cooks’ research group at Purdue invented desorption electrospray ionization (DESI), an ambient ionization method that increases the efficiency of mass spectrometry’s chemical analysis.

Dearden said one application of DESI is cancer surgeons who spray an area of tissue to see if it is cancerous or not. This points surgeons where to operate.

“It’s instant biopsy in real time, and that kind of thing is just amazing and will probably save lives,” Dearden said.

But Cooks’s achievements do not end with DESI.

Many novel instruments have come out of Cooks’s laboratory, including the first hybrid instrument and early miniature mass spectrometer. The reduction in size allows clinics, food safety organizations, the military, and the Department of Homeland Security the use of mass spectrometers to check for bacteria, drugs, and other harmful matter.

It is no surprise Cooks has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Robert Boyle Prize for Analytical Science in 2008 and the F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research of the American Chemical Society in 2012. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

These lectures are free and open to the general public. Dearden recommends anyone and everyone to come to both lectures.

“I think Cooks will inspire people about what’s possible,” he said.