The Birth of Epistructural Biology

By Weishi Meng

Linus Pauling, the most gifted physical chemist that ever lived, once said that the realization of the relevance of the hydrogen bond, a relatively weak molecular force, gave birth to Structural Biology.

Linus Pauling and Vitamin C
Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner. (Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

He also said that there was more to it, a sort of meta-analysis of structural biology that was still missing. This he conveyed to Oktay Sinanoglu, Yale University’s wonderboy, who had been made full professor at the age of 28.

OS Linus Pauling
Linus Pauling and Oktay Sinanoglu


In September of 1981, Oktay Sinanoglu passed on Pauling’s prophetic words to his student Ariel Fernandez, who had just arrived at Yale from his native Argentina. Fernandez was to receive the fastest awarded doctorate in Yale’s modern history.

Oktay Sinanoglu with Ariel Fernandez
Oktay Sinanoglu and Ariel Fernandez (Cape Cod, MA, 1982)

Yet, it took Ariel Fernandez 37 years to bring Linus Pauling’s thought to fruition. Finally, in September of 2018, an overdue meta-analysis of structural biology materialized, encompassing the complex physics that underlies the coupling of the protein structure and the aqueous solvent beyond.  Thus, Epistructural Biology was born.  The new discipline is heralded in the September cover of Annalen der Physik.

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Ariel Fernandez in 2018, aged 61.

The path to scientific discovery is hardly ever linear.

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