Beckman-Brown Lecture on Interdisciplinary Science

Photo collage of Arnold Beckman and Ted Brown overlaid on the Beckman Institute gates.

The Annual Beckman-Brown Lecture on Interdisciplinary Science honors Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, the founder of the Institute, and Dr. Theodore “Ted” Brown, the founding director. The series is funded by a gift from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

Upcoming Lecture Fall 2017

Portrait of Laura Kiessling.

Cell Surface Glycans as Cellular IDs
Dr. Laura Kiessling, Department of Chemistry, MIT

4 pm Friday, Nov. 3, 2017
Beckman Auditorium
Reception follows presentation.


From humans to fungi to bacteria, virtually all cells on Earth possess a carbohydrate coat. One important role of this coat is to serve as an identification card. Checking microbial IDs is critical for human health. As animals living among microbes, we need to distinguish between microorganisms that are generally benign (commensal), beneficial (mutualist/symbiont), or pathogenic. The glycans play key roles. This seminar will focus on the roles of carbohydrate-binding proteins in checking glycan IDs. Topics will span from probing fundamental chemical forces underlying the recognition of carbohydrates to understanding how nature exploits these interactions to detect microbes—both commensal and pathogenic. Kiessling’s research group is studying how to co-opt or inhibit glycan interactions for health and disease.


After earning a B.S. in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1983) and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Yale University (1989), where she worked with Stuart Schreiber, Laura Kiessling spent two years at the California Institute of Technology as an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the research group of Peter B. Dervan. From 1991-2017, she was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2017, she joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry at MIT. Her interdisciplinary research interests focus on elucidating and exploiting the mechanisms of cell surface recognition processes, especially those involving protein-glycan interactions. Another major interest of her group is multivalency and its role in recognition and signal transduction. Her research combines tools from organic synthesis, polymer chemistry, structural biology, and molecular and cell biology.

Previous Beckman-Brown Lectures

New Enzymes by Evolution: Expanding the Scope of Biocatalysis
Frances H. Arnold
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology
September 19, 2016