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Paul D. Boyer, Nobel Laureate Biochemist

by Brian O'Donnell on Thu, September 21, 2017

Paul Boyer

Paul Boyer
Courtesy UCLA

To celebrate 70 years of advancing scientific knowledge, OSTI is featuring some of the leading scientists and works particularly relevant to the formation of DOE, OSTI, and their predecessor organizations and is highlighting Nobel laureates and other important research figures in DOE’s history.  Their accomplishments were key to the evolution of the Department of Energy, and OSTI’s collections include many of their publications.

Paul Boyer shared one half of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with John E. Walker “for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)”.  ATP functions as a carrier of energy in all living organisms from bacteria and fungi to plants and animals, including humans.  ATP captures the chemical energy released by the combustion of nutrients and transfers it to reactions that require energy such as the building up of cell components, muscle contraction, transmission of nerve messages, and the functioning of the brain as one reads and processes information.  ATP has been termed the cell’s energy currency and is used as the primary energy source for metabolic functions. 

ATP is the most widely distributed high-energy compound within the human body.  This ubiquitous molecule is used to build complex molecules, contract muscles, and generate electricity in nerves.  All fuel sources of nature, all foodstuffs of living things, produce ATP, which in turn powers virtually every activity of the cell and organism.  

ATP was first discovered in 1929 by the German chemist Karl Lohmann.  The English chemist Alexander Todd helped clarify its structure and became the first to synthesize ATP in 1948.  Todd won the Nobel Prize in 1957.  Another Nobel Laureate, Fritz Lipmann, demonstrated that ATP is the universal carrier of chemical energy in the cell.

Professor Paul D. Boyer was born July 1918, in Provo, Utah.  He received a B.S. degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University in 1939 and obtained a Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Scholarship for graduate studies.  He received his Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1943, and spent two years at Stanford University on a war-related research project dedicated to stabilization of serum albumin for transfusions.  Following this research, and after a short stay in the Navy, he became an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota.  In 1955, Boyer accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship in Sweden and worked with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Axel Hugo Theorell at the Nobel Medical Institute, researching the mechanism of alcohol dehydrogenase.

In 1963, Boyer became a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).  He founded the Molecular Biology Institute in 1965 and led the construction of the building and the organization of an interdepartmental Ph.D. program.  He later assumed Professor Emeritus status at UCLA and continued working from an office on the university campus.

In addition to his research activities, Boyer served as editor or associate editor of the Annual Review of Biochemistry from 1963 to 1989.  He also wrote or co-wrote more than 200 scientific papers in biochemistry and molecular biology.  In 1970, Boyer embarked on a long project when he completed the first of what would turn out to be an 18-volume series on enzymes.

SciTech Connect, the portal to free publicly available DOE-sponsored R&D results, offers access to research on adenosine triphosphate, as well as to articles and technical reports by P.D. Boyer


Page last updated on 2017-09-21 10:00

About the Author

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Brian O'Donnell
Program Analyst/Communications Specialist, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information