José Argüello, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been named the first Walter and Miriam Rutman Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry. The professorship was established through a $6 million bequest from Miriam B. Rutman, an emeritus member of the WPI Board of Trustees and the widow of Walter Rutman '30.
"We are delighted to be able to recognize such an accomplished educator and researcher with this distinguished honor," said WPI Provost Eric Overström. "Professor Argüello has won widespread acclaim for his research in biochemistry, work that has helped strengthened WPI's reputation for excellence in the life sciences, and he has brought distinction to this university through his service to his profession at the national level."
A member of the WPI faculty since 1996, Argüello is a biochemist whose research focuses on the structure and function of proteins that transport heavy metals like copper, zinc, cobalt, and iron across cell membranes. These micronutrients perform fundamental functions in all living organisms, for example, maintaining structure, conferring catalytic activity to proteins, and participating in the transport of oxygen in the blood and the synthesis of sugars in plants. Metals also contribute to the virulence of pathogenic microorganisms and the ability of a cell to resist infection.
Because of the importance of these basic biological functions, a better understanding of the mechanisms of heavy metal transport has implications for the treatment of a host of diseases, for human and animal nutrition, and for the bioremediation of heavy metal pollution.
Argüello received a degree in biological chemistry from the National University of Cordoba and a PhD in biological sciences from the National University of Rio Cuarto in Argentina. He completed postdoctoral work in the Department of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania and in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Cincinnati. He has received multiple research grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including an NIH Research Development Award for Minority Faculty. He has published more than 50 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the most-cited biomedical research journal in the world; Argüello was appointed to the journal's editorial board in 2011.
Argüello served as a program director in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences in 2009, and in 2010 he was appointed to a four-year term on the NIH's Macromolecular Structure and Function (A) study section to participate in the review and evaluation of research proposals aimed at understanding the nature of biological phenomena and applying that knowledge to enhance human health.
Walter Rutman never returned to the WPI campus after receiving his degree in chemistry in 1930. He established a successful publishing and printing business in Rhode Island and followed his alma mater's progress closely through the years. Upon his death in 1982, the university received a bequest of $1.5 million from his estate to establish the Walter and Miriam B. Rutman Scholarship Fund. It was the largest gift for scholarships received by the university to that time.
In the intervening years, Miriam Rutman became an active participant in the life of WPI and served as a member of the university's Board of Trustees for five years; she was only the third women elected to serve on the board. She came to campus each fall to meet with Rutman Scholarship recipients and each spring to congratulate the recipients and their families at Commencement. In 1987 she made a commitment to establish the Rutman Professorship in Walter's memory, a commitment that was fulfilled following her death in 1992 when the university received a $6 million bequest from the Rutman estate—the second largest gift from an individual made to WPI to that time.