Public Release: 

ASU's Biodesign Institute and Korea's POSTECH announce new partnership

Powerful new facility, the X-ray Free Electron Laser at the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (PAL-XFEL), to discover and understand important biological molecules for new health care and renewable energy research

Arizona State University

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), Pohang, South Korea, have announced a partnership that will catalyze discoveries with a major impact on health care and clean energy applications.

Scientists at both universities will work together to outfit a powerful new facility, the X-ray Free Electron Laser at the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (PAL-XFEL), to discover and understand important biological molecules for new health care and renewable energy research.

"POSTECH's rapid rise as a world-class research institution makes them an exceptional partner to move this research ahead," said Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University (ASU). "The ASU-POSTECH collaboration will tackle a wide range of urgent biological problems, from accelerating the pipeline for new drug discovery and development to battle cancer and infectious diseases to unraveling the secrets of photosynthesis to make cheap and efficient worldwide renewable energy production a reality."

"This new partnership with ASU would speed up the transformation of innovative research into real-world solutions," said Yongmin Kim, Ph.D., president of POSTECH, which was the first research-oriented university in Korea and has been the No. 1 ranked university in the world under 50 years old from 2012-14. "Founded upon a mission to serve the nation and humanity, POSTECH places strong emphasis on new value creation through education, research and commercialization endeavors in collaboration with industry."

The outcomes of this research are expected to inspire the next generation of scientists, train a highly skilled work force, launch new businesses and create high-wage jobs in both South Korea and the U.S. POSTECH President Kim recently visited ASU, meeting with faculty and administrators to learn more about ASU, including research in electrical and computer engineering for medical imaging and consumer health care. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and former chair of the University of Washington's Department of Bioengineering, Kim is a distinguished researcher with more than 450 publications and about 75 patents.

A Biodesign delegation visited POSTECH earlier this year, signing a Memorandum of Understanding, meeting with faculty of common research interests, and taking a tour of POSTECH's research infrastructure including the POSTECH Biotech Center and PAL-XFEL. The $400 million, 1.1 kilometer long PAL-XFEL facility, set to begin commissioning in early 2016, is being designed and built by a team led by In Soo Ko, Ph.D. It will become just the third of its kind in the world, after the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford University and the Spring-8 Angstrom Compact free electron Laser (SACLA) in Hyogo, Japan. "When LCLS and SACLA were built, the significant impact XFELs would have on biology research wasn't known, so there is a unique opportunity today to make the PAL-XFEL a premier destination for biological research with free electron lasers," said Petra Fromme, Ph.D., director of the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, who will lead the ASU team.

Fromme is a biochemist with more than 20 years of experience in the field of membrane protein X-ray crystallography, a variation of the same technique that was used to help solve the structure of DNA. She leads a team of researchers at ASU, along with distinguished international collaborators, who helped pioneer using XFELs for biology research in 2009. XFEL science has the potential to change the way we understand structural biology, a scientific field that combines chemistry, physics and biology to understand the inner workings of key molecules and processes of life at an unprecedented, atomic level scale. XFEL technology opens the door to new levels of understanding because the x-ray source is more powerful (up to 10 billion times stronger) than conventional sources, enabling researchers to view molecular dynamics at a time-scale never before observed.

"This partnership brings together POSTECH's deep expertise in developing, constructing and operating state-of-the-art high energy X-ray beamlines with ASU's expertise in adapting biological X-ray crystallography for XFELs," said Fromme.

The joint ASU-POSTECH venture will also entail a vibrant exchange of ideas that is facilitated through joint conferences, colloquia and symposia, joint publications and intellectual property and by cross-training students and researchers to be future global scientific leaders.

"POSTECH's trailblazing accomplishments as a home to more than 70 research institutes, coupled with ASU's pioneering work in structural biology and XFEL creates a powerful partnership that will have significant impacts," said Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, Ph.D., senior vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU. "These will range from scientific discoveries to educating the next generation of scientists to advancing the economies in both of our countries."


About Arizona State University

Arizona State University is the largest public research university in the United States under a single administration, with total student enrollment of more than 70,000 in metropolitan Phoenix, the nation's sixth-largest city. ASU is creating a new model for American higher education, an unprecedented combination of academic excellence, entrepreneurial energy and broad access. This New American University is a single, unified institution comprising four differentiated campuses positively impacting the economic, social, cultural and environmental health of the communities it serves. Its research is inspired by real-world application, blurring the boundaries that traditionally separate academic disciplines. ASU champions intellectual and cultural diversity and welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 120 nations.

About the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University works to improve human health and quality of life through its translational research mission in health care, energy and the environment, global health and national security. Grounded on the premise that scientists can best solve complex problems by emulating nature, Biodesign serves as an innovation hub that fuses previously separate areas of knowledge to serve as a model for 21st century academic research. By fusing bioscience/biotechnology, nanoscale engineering and advanced computing, Biodesign's research scientists and students take an entrepreneurial team approach to accelerating discoveries to market. They also educate future generations of scientists by providing hands-on laboratory research training in state-of-the-art facilities for ASU.

About the Biodesign Center for Applied Discovery

The Center for Applied Structural Discovery (CASD) unites a team of complementary research professionals from a wide range of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, to develop and apply groundbreaking technologies and methodologies to accelerate the rate at which we discover the structure and associated function of biomolecules. Breakthrough knowledge will form the basis for fast progress on the path to technical innovations that improve human health and provide plentiful clean energy and food for future generations. The CASD mission is to develop new revolutionary techniques that reveal the structure and dynamics of biomolecules towards new visionary discoveries in medicine and energy conversion.


POSTECH was established in 1986 as the first research-oriented university in Pohang, South Korea. POSTECH has a student body of about 1,400 undergraduates representing the top 1 percent of all high school graduates in Korea and 2,100 graduate students. With the number of SCI paper per faculty member reaching over 6.5 per year and the number of citations per paper exceeding 13.8 in 2014, POSTECH's research quality and volume have been regarded as one of the best in Asia. POSTECH is recognized for its renowned facilities and research institutes including the Max Planck/POSTECH Korea Research Initiative, four research centers of the Institute for Basic Science, the POSTECH Biotech Center, the National Institute for Nanomaterials Technology, and the Pohang Light Source, the only synchrotron radiation accelerator in Korea.

About Pohang Accelerator Laboratory

The Pohang Light Source (PLS) construction was completed in September, 1994. The construction project was initiated by the founding chairman of the Pohang Iron & Steel Company (POSCO), Mr. Tae-Joon Park, and the first President of POSTECH, Dr. Hogil Kim, in 1988. About 60 percent of the total construction cost ($150M USD) came from POSCO, with the remainder coming from the Korean government. The PLS is a national user facility, owned and operated by the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (PAL) and POSTECH on behalf of the Korean Government. PLS has been serving domestic and international users since September 1995.

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