Gordon G. Hammes was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He received his B.A. from Princeton University (1956) and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin (1959). He then spent a year in Göttingen, Germany, as a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institut fur Physikalische Chemie with Nobel Laureate Manfred Eigen. Upon his return to the United States, Hammes joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked as an instructor and later as associate professor. He moved to Ithaca, New York in 1965 to become professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry (1970–1975) and director of the Biotechnology Program (1983–1988) at Cornell University. In 1988, he moved west and served as professor and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at University of California, Santa Barbara, and in 1991, Hammes joined Duke University as professor and Vice Chancellor for Medical Center Academic Affairs. Today, Hammes remains at Duke as Distinguished Service Professor of Biochemistry.
Hammes research has been concerned with the elucidation of enzyme mechanisms and enzyme regulation, especially with fast reaction techniques, and development of fluorescence resonance energy transfer as a structural tool. He has also studied membrane transport mechanisms coupled to ATP hydrolysis/synthesis and organized enzyme assemblies such as pyruvate dehydrogenase and fatty acid synthase. Recently he used single molecule fluorescence microscopy to probe the molecular details of enzyme dynamics within a single enzyme molecule (e.g., dihydrofolate reductase) and processive reactions (e.g., T4 DNA replication on a single DNA molecule).
Hammes is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His awards and honors include the McKay Prize in Chemistry (1956), the American Chemical Society Award in Biological Chemistry (1967), and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology William C. Rose Award (2002). He has authored several books, including Chemical Kinetics; Principles and Selected Topics (1966), Enzyme Catalysis and Regulation (1982), Principles of Chemical Kinetics (1978), Thermodynamics and Kinetics for the Biological Sciences (2000), and Spectroscopy for the Biological Sciences (2005). He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Chemical Reviews, Biochemistry, and Journal of American Chemical Society and was also editor of Biochemistry (1992–2003). Hammes was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1994.