Awards, Mind & body, People, Research

Chemist Susan Marqusee takes leading role at National Science Foundation

Marqusee, a biophysical chemist, lead the directorate for biological sciences at the NSF, which is responsible for about $1 billion in funding annually

Susan Marqusee with scarf, red hair and glasses

Susan Marqusee, a biophysical chemist and professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry, has been selected to lead the arm of the National Science Foundation that funds basic research in the life sciences.

Susan Marqusee, a biophysical chemist who headed the UC Berkeley arm of the California Institute of Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) for 10 years, until 2020, has been chosen to lead the Directorate for Biological Sciences of the National Science Foundation (NSF) — the major funder of basic life sciences research in the United States.

“I am excited for the opportunity to lead the ‘BIO’ directorate and be a part of the NSF legacy that has promoted the progress of science for over 70 years,” said Marqusee, a Distinguished Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemistry and a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator. “Many of the world’s current challenges have solutions routed in biology, making this a particularly exciting time for biology and cross-disciplinary discovery. I look forward to partnering across the agency to enable participation, discovery and translation in the biological sciences. I am also grateful to the University of California for allowing me to take this time to serve our country.”

Marqusee will begin her appointment on June 30, with plans to maintain her Berkeley lab while at the NSF under the agency’s Independent Research/Development program, which allows employees to remain actively involved with their professional research while there.

The NSF, with its fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, is the major funder of fundamental research across all areas of science and engineering, supporting research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to further ingenuity and to sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. The BIO directorate has an annual budget of about $1 billion, supporting discovery, translation and education across all areas of the life sciences.

“Susan Marqusee’s vast experience will be a monumental benefit to NSF and our effort to tackle some of the most complex societal challenges,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Under her leadership, the BIO directorate is strongly positioned to expand the frontiers of knowledge and fuel discoveries, technologies and innovations that change lives around the world. I am grateful for her public service and commitment to promoting the progress of science.”

Marqusee received a bachelor’s degree in physics and another in chemistry from Cornell University and a doctorate in biochemistry and a medical degree from Stanford University. She has been at Berkeley since 1992, serving as associate director (2001-2010) and then director (2010-2020) for QB3-Berkeley. In addition, she led the campus research recovery through the pandemic.

Marqusee’s research focuses on deciphering the structural and dynamic information encoded in a protein’s amino acid sequence with the goal of understanding and predicting how changes in the sequence and environment affect a protein’s energy landscape and function. The fundamental nature of her work has had significant impact on many other areas of research, ranging from the physical chemistry of macromolecules to the design of therapeutics that prevent the aggregation of proteins, a phenomenon that can lead to neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

She has earned numerous awards and honors, including the Margaret Dayhoff Award from the Biophysical Society, the William Rose Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award from the Protein Society. She is a fellow of both the Biophysical Society and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2013) and the National Academy of Sciences (2016).