Jose Rodriguez, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College, was today named among 22 outstanding young scientists in the United States to be awarded Packard fellowships for Science and Engineering by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Packard fellowships enable the nation’s most promising young professors to pursue science and engineering research early in their careers with few funding restrictions, providing them with the freedom to take risks.

Rodriguez develops and applies new scientific methods in bio-imaging to solve cellular and molecular structures and reveal undiscovered structures that influence chemistry, biology and medicine. He conducts research on the complex architecture of biological systems — from single biomolecules to cellular assemblies — at high resolution. His research combines computational, biochemical and biophysical experiments.

His laboratory is working to explore the structures adopted by prions — a form of infectious protein that causes neurodegenerative disorders. Prion proteins, like the amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, form large clumps that damage and ultimately kill neurons in the brain. It is not known what causes prions to switch from their harmless, normal form to the infectious, aggregate-forming structure. As a postdoctoral fellow, Rodriguez pioneered methods for the collection of structural data from miniscule protein “nanocrystals” — techniques his laboratory uses to determine detailed atomic structures of proteins.

Combining this technique with methods in physical chemistry and molecular and computational biology, his research team analyzes the range of structures that prion proteins adopt within single assemblies. The findings could reveal the structural changes that transform prions into their toxic, infectious form, and could lead to strategies for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders associated with the formation of amyloid aggregates.

“I can’t wait to see what direction the work of these brilliant scientists and engineers will take,” said Frances Arnold, chair of the Packard Fellowships advisory panel, 2018 Nobel laureate in chemistry and 1989 Packard Fellow. “Their efforts will add to this beautiful web of science that connects us all to a better understanding of the world around us.”

Among his awards and honors, Rodriguez was selected as a 2018 Pew scholar in the biomedical sciences, a 2017 Searle Scholar and a 2017 Beckman Young Investigator by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

UCLA professors who previously have been awarded Packard fellowships include Andrea Ghez, Alice Shapley, Steven Furlanetto, Douglas Black, Dino Di Carlo, Weizhe Hong, Elaine Hsiao, Richard Kaner, Carolina Lithgow-Bertelloni, Hosea Nelson, Yi Tang, and Terence Tao.