IRobert “Buzz” Baldwin spent almost his career in the medical school at Stanford University directing the early life work of proteins to usher the biological community into the molecular era. The biochemist died of lung failure last month (March 6) at the age of 93.
“Buzz Baldwin was an eminent scientist known for profound, penetrating thoughts,” said Lloyd Minor, dean of Stanford Medicine, in an obituary for the university. “His discoveries formed the basis for our understanding of how a newborn protein folds precisely into its adult form within milliseconds – a finding that has influenced molecular biology ever since.”
Baldwin received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1950 and a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Oxford four years later. After a brief stint at the University of Wisconsin, first as a postdoc in physical chemistry and then as a faculty of biochemistry, Baldwin moved to the Stanford Medicine Faculty in 1959 and became a member of the newly formed Department of Biochemistry.
His work focused on how proteins move from simple amino acid chains to intricately folded structures that perform functions in cells – an area of biology about which there were many “critical, unanswered questions” at the time, Paul Berg, professor emeritus at Stanford Medicine and a founding member of the university’s department of biochemistry, says Stanford Medicine. Thanks to Baldwin’s research, it is now clear that proteins must go through various intermediate forms before they can reach their final form, which is necessary for proper function.
“Buzz was a giant in the protein folding field and a deeply influential mentor to many,” said Peter Kim of Stanford Medicine, who was doing his graduation in Baldwin’s lab, in the statement. “He exemplified what it means to be a scholar.”
After a year abroad at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen and the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Baldwin became a full professor at Stanford Medicine in 1964 and later served as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry. He retired in 1998, but continued researching until a few years ago.
He is survived by his wife Anne Norris, sons David and Eric, and five grandchildren.