Biography - James M. Holton 

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James M. Holton, a Scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Bioimaging division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) and Full Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, was the 2020 recipient of the ACA’s David J. Rognlie Award. This award is awarded “to recognize an exceptional discovery of technical development of particularly high impact in … structural science.”  

James was honored to recognize his work in the development of the beamline 8.3.1 at the advanced light source (ALS) in the LBNL, one of the most productive beamlines, in terms of both publication number and impact, in the world. He is one of the most insightful proponents, designers and visionaries of synchrotron beamline development. The innovations that James has designed, built and installed have always been carried out with the goal of optimizing the process of data collection. 

James’ doctoral dissertation reported the first-ever, fully-automated solution of a previously unsolved protein structure. In order to carry out this structure determination, James single-handedly wrote a computer program called ELVES which has continued to be the core structure-solving program at the 8.3.1 beamline.  

He has optimized the process of data collection by incorporating a robot to mount pins, a touch screen for centering crystals, automated data backup, seamless data processing interfaces and a highly intuitive control system. His interests have grown to addressing the question: Why do so many structure determinations at the beamline fail? He has revealed the bottlenecks in x-ray crystallography by archiving, curating and analyzing all the data collected at his beamline. This has resulted in a number of key practical insights, one of them being the predictability of radiation damage to macromolecular crystals.  

James’ vision, now realized, is for users to find answers to critical questions during data collection when there is time to revise plans to make the best use of beam-time rather than after lesser quality data have been collected. 

James has made numerous pioneering contributions to the synchrotron experience, starting with a vision for optimizing all aspects of data collection to structure determination and developing and implementing novel hardware and software solutions. His software developments allow users to solve problems concurrent with data collection, not after leaving the beamline. James is generous colleague who has done much to educate beamline users.