Neal Woodbury

Chief Science + Technology Officer & Professor
Ofc EVP Knowledge Enterprise
Faculty Member
Innovations in Medicine
University Club
University Club

Location: TEMPE

Contact Information
(480) 965-4430


  • Ph.D. in Biochemistry, University of Washington 1986
  • B.S. in Biochemistry, University of California-Davis 1979


Research Interests

Chemical Diversity: A major competency of BON is in the creation, generation and searching of chemical space. We have multiple methods for accomplishing this. We are currently using the technique of mRNA display to search libraries of peptides and proteins as large as 1013-14 and select those with the desired traits. We have also developed the capability to synthetically create libraries on the order of 106 peptides or other synthetic chemical structures using the kind of light directed synthesis that is used in the generation of DNA chips. We have generalized the chemistry to be used for other kinds of compounds that can be constructed from building block components.

Synthetic Antibodies (Synbodies): We are collaborating with the Biodesign Institute's Center for Innovations in Medicine to apply our chemical diversity capability to the production of synthetic antibodies. Here, we use various methods to search chemical space for weak binders and then orient them to create systems with high affinity and specificity, mimicking antibody function.

Creation Generation of Catalysts for Energy Conversion using Patterned Synthesis: We have utilized our directed synthetic chemical diversity platform (described above) to create tens of thousands of potential electro-catalysts directly on electrodes. We are synthesizing libraries of metal binding peptides to search for new water splitting catalysts that mimic the activity of the oxygen evolving complex of photosystem II in collaboration with ASU professors James Allen and JoAnn Williams of the chemistry and biochemistry department and Trevor Thornton of the electrical engineering department.

Optically Directed Cellular Evolution: We are also extending our optical patterning of chemistry to cells. We have developed a means of patterning cell growth on a surface using the photolyase repair system to affect light activated rescue from cell death. This makes it possible to observe a large number of cells on a surface and then select a subset to allow to grow while killing the remainder.

Ultrafast Laser Spectroscopy and Microscopy: BON members manage ASUi??"s ultrafast laser spectroscopy and microscopy facility, and this represents another of our key competencies. The facility is well equipped with state-of-arts ultrafast lasers and detection systems, including 2 transient absorption spectrometers, a kilohertz femtosecond up-conversion apparatus, a single photon counting system, a streak camera fluorescence FLIM spectrometer, 2 microscope systems for single molecule spectroscopy. Here it is possible to perform femtosecond timescale spectroscopy in many different forms (absorbance, fluorescence, etc.) both in solution, on surfaces, in living cells or tissues and at the single molecule level.

The Role of Protein Dynamics in Photosynthetic Electron Transfer: We have a fundamental program in the study of the ultrafast electron transfer reactions of bacterial photosynthetic reaction centers. This work utilizes ASUi??"s ultrafast laser facility to follow these electron transfer reactions on the femtosecond to picosecond timescale. Recently, we have discovered that the kinetics of electron transfer in this system is directly limited by protein motion and we are continuing to explore how this complex protein dance serves to mediate biochemical reaction.

Analyzing the Structure and Dynamics of Chromatin: The critical role of chromatin structure in controlling gene expression is becoming more and more evident. Of particular interest to us is the dynamics of the DNA/protein interaction in the nucleosome, the most elemental chromatin structural component. We are using single molecule spectroscopy and AFM to explore the structure and dynamics of these particles as a function of DNA sequence and under the influence of transcription factors that affect gene expression. This work is done in collaboration with the Biodesign Institute's Center for Single Molecule Biophysics (Stuart Lindsay and with Dennis Lohr in ASU's chemistry and biochemistry department).


Professor Neal Woodbury is director of and professor in the School of Molecular Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a Senior Sustainability Scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and a faculty member in the Biodesign Center for Innovations in Medicine and with the Global Security Initiative at ASU.

Professor Woodbury is also the co-founder of HealthTell with Professor Stephen Johnston.  HealthTell is a company based on a diagnostic technology called immunosignaturing and involves fabrication of large numbers of peptides or related heteropolymers on silicon wafers. The resulting peptide arrays are the basis of a diagnostic platform that generates a comprehensive profile of circulating antibodies. 

Another aspect of his work involves the collaborative study of photosynthetic systems, with the goal of understanding the role that protein dynamics plays in protein-mediated chemistry. His group works to translate some of the ideas that have come out of the study of photosynthesis and enzymology to create nanoscale devices based on DNA nanostructures and nanophotonic systems. This work has made it clear that mimicking biology's ability to organize catalysis at the nanoscale is a very powerful approach to directing both chemical and photochemical reactions in specific ways.