Montana State University

Lecture on biological nitrogen fixation set for Feb. 23 at MSU

February 9, 2011 -- MSU News Service

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- A free public lecture about biological nitrogen fixation will be given on Wednesday, Feb. 23, at Montana State University.

Travis Harris, a doctoral candidate in MSU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the recipient of a Kopriva Graduate Fellowship, will speak on "Unlocking the Mysteries of Biological Nitrogen Fixation with Theoretical Chemistry " at 4 p.m. in the Byker Auditorium in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Building. A reception will follow.

Harris' research is focused on biological nitrogen fixation, the process by which the nitrogenase enzyme reduces dinitrogen (N2) to a biologically accessible form (NH3) for incorporation into the building blocks of life. Understanding of this process is limited by the uncertain structure of the catalytic active site, known as the FeMo-cofactor. Harris will present a density functional theory-based evaluation of all possible structures, including the mysterious central atom, using a wide range of experimental criteria. He will also discuss efforts to model the protein environment, and describe its essential role in the molecular mechanism. Understanding the details of biological nitrogen fixation could lead to improved agricultural fertilizers that are more sustainable and less destructive to the environment.

Harris' lecture is presented by the Kopriva Science Seminar Series, which is funded through an endowment created by Phil Kopriva, a 1957 microbiology graduate from MSU. Kopriva, who died in 2002, also created an endowment to fund the Kopriva Graduate Fellowship Program, which provides support and opportunities for graduate students in the College of Letters and Science, particularly in the biomedical sciences. The series features six seminars annually, with talks provided by MSU graduate students, faculty members and guest speakers.

For more information about this and other Kopriva lectures, visit

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or