Arthur G. Szabo (1939-2017)

Arthur G. Szabo, FCIC was born in Toronto, Ont. in 1939. Art, as he was known, studied chemistry and mathematics at Queen's University, where he received an Honors BSc. He earned MA and PhD degrees in organic chemistry from the University of Toronto as a graduate student of Peter Yates, with support from a National Research Council stipend. He pursued organic photochemistry at the University of Southampton as a NRC overseas postdoctoral fellow. Szabo started as a research officer in the Institute for Biological Sciences (IBS) at the NRC-CNRC in Ottawa in 1967, becoming a senior research officer prior to his departure in 1994. He became director of the School of Physical Sciences, director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, head of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and professor of biochemistry at the University of Windsor until 200 and then served as dean of science at Wilfrid Laurier University from 2000–2007, finally retiring as professor of chemistry in 2013.

Szabo published more than 140 research articles and earned an international reputation for his work on fluorescence studies of protein structure and function. He supervised the research work of 9 PhD students, 10 MSc students, and 14 postdoctoral fellows, several summer students and four-year honours students and had numerous productive collaborations. He was awarded the John Labatt Lecture Award from the Canadian Society of Chemistry in 1993 for his outstanding achievement in biochemistry. His research was funded by NSERC, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Bayer-Red Cross, and NATO. Szabo was a visiting scientist/professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland, Centre Biophysique Moleculaire, France, Consejo Superior di Investigaciones Cientificas, Spain, University of Parma, Italy, and the University of São Paolo, Brazil.

His contribution to biophysics methodologies include the refinement of laser-based time correlated single-photon counting instrumentation, data collection, analysis and signal corrections; collection of polarized time-resolved fluorescence from protein crystals, biosynthetic incorporation of tryptophan analogues into recombinant proteins, and improving fluorescence measurement standards. His contributions include the photophysical characterization and time-resolved fluorescence of dozens of single-tryptophan proteins, peptides and analogs, including metal binding proteins (calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, terbium, and europium). Today, in light of new methods for refining protein X-ray crystallographic data, Szabo’s many papers on the conformational heterogeneity of proteins remain significant, and were, in many ways, ahead of their time.

Szabo served the community as a member and chair of NSERC grant selection committee 32, and the College of Reviewers for the CRC program. He was an associate editor of the journal Biochemistry and Cell Biology, was a founding associate editor of the Journal of Fluorescence, and chaired the CSC annual conference and exhibition in Windsor in 1997. He was dedicated to science until almost his last day, completing the manuscript of a university-level textbook on protein structure and function.

Not only was Szabo a “cook in the chemistry lab”, but also in the kitchen, where he enjoyed making elaborate creations that he paired perfectly with a good bottle of wine. He will be sorely missed by his former mentees and the research community world-wide, to which he brought his intellect, enthusiasm, humour and generosity.