Howard Kapnek Schachman was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1939) and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Princeton University (1948) after briefly aiding in the wartime effort at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Following graduate training, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, as an instructor in the Biochemistry Department. He was promoted to associate professor in 1954 and became a full professor in 1959. Schachman then served as chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology and director of the Virus Laboratory from 1969 to 1976. He remains at Berkeley as professor emeritus today.
Schachman's early studies on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus led to his investigation of an ultracentrifuge anomaly and the construction of a synthetic boundary cell for the ultracentrifuge. This work, in turn, resulted in about 15 years of research on the ultracentrifuge and its application to the study of biological macromolecules. Among the molecules Schachman identified and investigated were the 30 S and 50 S ribosomal subunits and chromatophores from photosynthetic microorganisms. Schachman's efforts also led to the development of the photoelectric absorption optical system and the incorporation of the Rayleigh interferometer into the ultracentrifuge. His application of these tools to research on Escherichia coli aspartate transcarbamoylase led to the discovery that the enzyme had distinct subunits for catalysis and regulation and that a global conformational change in the enzyme was associated with its role in regulation. Some of Schachman's work was featured as a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1).
Schachman has served the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in numerouscapacities including acting as president in 1887 and as chairman of the Society's Public Affairs Advisory Committee for more than 10 years (1989–2000). He was also president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in 1988. In recognition of his service to the Society, the Howard K. Schachman Public Service Award was instituted in 2001 to recognize an individual who best demonstrates dedication to public service in support of biomedical science. Schachman has received many other honors, including the John Scott Award (1964), the Alexander von Humboldt Award (1990), the ASBMB-Merck Award (1986), the Herbert A. Sober Lectureship (1994), and the Theodor Svedberg Award (1998). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1968.
1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2007) Innovations in ultracentrifugation and an analysis of aspartate transcarbamoylase: The work of Howard K. Schachman. J. Biol. Chem. 282 (21)