Campus News

UGA’s Michael K. Johnson named Regents’ Professor

Michael K. Johnson

Athens, Ga. – Michael K. Johnson, an internationally recognized chemist at the University of Georgia whose work has implications for agriculture, energy and health, has been named a Regents Professor, effective July 1.

Regents Professorships are bestowed by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia on faculty members whose scholarship or creative activity is recognized nationally and internationally as innovative and pace setting.

“Dr. Johnson’s pioneering research methods and insights into the role that metals play in biological processes have earned him the respect of colleagues across campus and around the world,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. “The quality of his scholarship, which is evident in his extraordinary record of continuous National Institutes of Health funding, is matched by his commitment to inspiring and mentoring the next generation of scientists.”

Johnson is an internationally renowned pioneer in the development of methods for investigating the biological properties of metals that are essential to life processes in plants and animals. He pioneered a technique known as magnetic circular dichroism spectroscopy, which measures the absorption of polarized light in the presence of a magnetic field at cryogenic temperatures, that has provided insights into the way metals catalyze or regulate metabolic processes.

Johnson, the co-director of the Center for Metalloenzyme Studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, is a pioneer in the development of methods for investigating the biological properties of metals that are essential to life processes in plants and animals. Many of his discoveries have “set up their own subfields of research worldwide,” said Brian Hoffman, the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, in his nomination letter.

“Michael Johnson is a superb bioinorganic spectroscopist who has made numerous seminal contributions to understanding the properties, function and assembly of transition metal centers in proteins and enzymes,” Hoffman wrote. “He is highly regarded nationally and internationally and is a major reason why UGA is internationally recognized as a center of excellence for inorganic biochemistry research.”

Johnson’s work has garnered $12.3 million in external funding, including a $3.3 million National Institutes of Health MERIT award, which provides long-term grant support to investigators “whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior.” He has published more than 235 peer-reviewed journal articles with an average of 48 citations per article. He has presented his work at more than 100 regional, national or international conferences. In addition, he has chaired numerous national and international meetings and created a series of Summer Inorganic Biochemistry Summer Workshops that trained graduate and postdoctoral students from across the U.S. at UGA.
Johnson received the Chemist of the Year for Research Award from the Northeast Georgia Section of the American Chemical Society in 2007 and a UGA Creative Research Medal in 1995. He was named Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1998. He was an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow from 1986 through 1988.

“It is truly impressive and stimulating to see the large breadth and impressive depth of Michael’s research,” Roland Lill, professor in the Institute of Cytobiology at the University of Marburg in Germany, wrote in a nomination letter. Praising Johnson’s teaching and national and international workshops, he added, “Michael would not be a well-known, highly respected and most successful scientist without being an excellent mentor and superb role model for his coworkers and students.”

Department head John Amster and five other colleagues in UGA’s chemistry department wrote in their nomination letter, “His performance during his 28 years at the University of Georgia has been remarkable by any criterion, and all indications suggest that this research excellence will continue and even accelerate in the future.”

The Regents’ Professorship includes a $10,000 salary increase and is granted for an initial period of three years, which may be renewed. No more than one Regents’ Professorship is given in any year at UGA.

For more information about the Regents’ Professorship, see