When CSUSM welcomed Katherine Kantardjieff of Cal Poly Pomona to lead the College of Science and Mathematics as founding dean in 2011, she brought with her the W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Molecular Structure (CMoIS), the first comprehensive X-ray crystallographic facility at a predominately undergraduate institution. Kantardjieff established CMoIS in 1994 while serving on the faculty at Cal State Fullerton.

X-ray crystallography is a precise means of imaging the structure of a molecule, such as protein or DNA. Molecular structure can provide research scientists in a variety of fields, such as materials science or medicine, with valuable insights into the relationship between the structure of matter and its properties or function.  One such area of research is structure-guided drug design, which explores the manner in which drugs function and interact with other molecules.

“Practically everything we know about the structure of matter at or near the atomic level of detail comes from X-ray diffraction analysis,” said Kantardjieff, who is currently the chair of the National User Facility Organization (NUFO) Steering Committee and is the former chair of the U.S. Committee for Crystallography. She is also co-editor of the Journal of Applied Crystallography. “Yet because X-ray diffraction is a specialized method requiring expertise and dedicated equipment, not all undergraduate institutions can engage students, faculty and post-doctoral fellows in the way that we do at CMoIS. By exposing students to X-ray diffraction in supportive research and curriculum, CSUSM will be very unique in this regard.”

CMoIS is a core facility for the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology, whose mission it is to develop a professional biotechnology workforce. In addition, CMolS has been the only member laboratory from a non-PhD granting institution of one of the first National Institute of Health funded structural genomics consortia – a group of more than 150 researchers worldwide who have been engaged in determining the structures of more than 400 proteins associated with tuberculosis.

Since 1997, CMoIS instruments, software and databases for research and training have been available to students and faculty in and outside of the Cal State system by remote Internet access. “This was groundbreaking for its time, and CMolS still remains one of only a handful of laboratories that enable this kind of remote access. Because of our commitment to collaboration, education and training, we enjoy strong partnerships with other research universities, government laboratories and even high schools,” commented Kantardjieff.

“The bounty of knowledge we gain from the diffraction analysis of crystal structures is a key underpinning of science and technology in the 21st century,” she explained. "This past summer, the United Nations declared 2014 to be the International Year of Crystallography.

“CMoIS puts CSUSM on the map in terms of providing undergraduate students hands-on experience with X-ray crystallographic equipment and research,” Kantardjieff explained. “The need for skilled crystallographers had never been greater, and teaching crystallography in a way that attracts the most talented young people is a must if the science of crystallography is to remain vibrant.”

“The bounty of knowledge we gain from the diffraction analysis of crystal structures is a key underpinning of science and technology in the 21st century,” said Katherine Kantardjieff, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.