Bioinorganic chemistry is a vibrant field that encompasses a wide variety of scientific areas (e.g. genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and analytical and physical chemistry) and an even wider assortment of methods to interrogate given questions (e.g. reaction kinetics, spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, and computation). Among its aims is to understand the formation, function, and regulation of the many metallo-cofactors found in Nature as well as to identify novel metallo-cofactors. Because these areas are so diverse and require in-depth expertise, research in bioinorganic chemistry is most often carried out collaboratively. In fact, research in bioinorganic chemistry has been highly collaborative since the 1960s, long before “interdisciplinary research” became a fashionable term in the 1990s. An entertaining account of the early days of collaborative bioinorganic research is Eckard Münck’s contribution to the special issue of BBRC as a tribute to Irwin “Gunny” Gunsalus (BBRC 2003, 312, 149–151). He tells how he entered the field of bioinorganic chemistry as a postdoc in Peter Debrunner’s group in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois, how physicists in the Debrunner group worked closely with biochemists in the Gunsalus group on the characterization of iron-containing enzymes, of the initial “language problems” between physicists and biochemists, and how these problems were effectively solved by joint group meetings and training sessions. During this time, he developed the first version of his class “Spin for Biologists”. This is only one of many examples that attest to the long history of collaborative research in bioinorganic chemistry.
The bioinorganic workshops at the University of Georgia and the University of Louvain-la-Neuve
In order to provide training to students and postdocs working in such a broad area, workshops in bioinorganic chemistry were offered from ~1985 to ~2003 at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (organized by Bob Crichton and colleagues) and from ~1990 to ~2000 at the University of Georgia (organized by Michael Johnson and colleagues). These workshops were offered during the summer to ~60-80 students and postdoctoral associates and were divided into three separate parts: (i) ~20-25 tutorials given by experts in the field on a subject pertaining to bioinorganic chemistry, (ii) three one-day practical sessions, during which workshop participants carried out experiments on three of five different topics, and (iii) case studies, presented by experts in that particular field, illustrating the interdisciplinary approach in bioinorganic chemistry. Both workshops were very popular with students and faculty, as they provided an unparalleled training opportunity.
The bioinorganic workshops at Penn State
Since 2010 the bioinorganic community at Penn State organizes bioinorganic workshops every other year. These events allow graduate students and post-docs to learn the numerous techniques used to carry out research within this field. The 2010 Bioinorganic Workshop was a 2-day pilot event that provided training in four methods to 36 participants offered by the Bollinger/Krebs group. Since 2012, the workshops were significantly longer (~8-9 days) and had many more participants [up to ~160 total; ~45 from PSU, ~100 from other domestic institutions, and ~20 international visitors]. These three workshops featured three distinct sections. (i) ~16 talks by faculty experts on methods used in the field (since 2014, the talks have been recorded and can be streamed), (ii) hands on training in ~20 methods in the lab in small groups of typically no more than 6 participants, and (iii) presentation of the participants’ research via poster sessions and several lectures selected from abstracts (the oral presentations are part of the Frontiers in Metallobiochemistry symposia when these are offered).