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1970's graduate student revolutionized biochemical research

Alan Flurry

Biochemist and Franklin College alumnus Marion Bradford spent most of his career developing new ways to use a common item found in kitchens and nurseries around the world—cornstarch. He is also the author of one of the most cited research papers in history:

He was part of a team recognized in 2003 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Chemical Society for creating an organic compound from corn sugar used in carpet fibers, cosmetics and liquid detergents that helped reduce the global economy’s reliance on petroleum-based materials. The organizations praised the team’s contributions to the “welfare and progress of humanity.”

But it is his research on the seventh floor of the Boyd Graduate Studies Research Center at the University of Georgia in the 1970s that will be his legacy. A theory he pursued because he thought it would save scientists time in the laboratory turned part of his doctoral dissertation into one of the most cited scientific papers in history—and invented an analytic process that revolutionized biochemical research.

“I look back and say, yep, that is what I am known for,” said Bradford, 72, who developed the Bradford protein assay, a process that is still being used in laboratories around the world to detect proteins in tissue samples. “It made life a lot simpler.”

According to an article published in Nature in 2014, if you put a printout of the first page of every paper listed on Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science that cited Bradford’s research paper and stacked them up, the pile would almost reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Five years ago, Bradford’s paper had been cited by other scientists 157,683 times and was one of only three to achieve more than 100,000 citations. Today, it has jumped to 206,088 citations and counting, which makes Bradford one of only a few scientists in the world whose work has been recognized at this rate and used by others—in the evolution of science—to provide credibility for their research and scientific knowledge.

Amazing story, and wonderful to see Bradford celebrated as a Georgia Groundbreaker for his early work that continues to resonate.

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