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07/17/2007 07:00:00

Caltech Chemist Peter Dervan Wins National Medal of Science

PASADENA, Calif.—Peter B. Dervan, the Bren Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, has been named one of eight recipients of the 2006 National Medal of Science. The award was announced Monday, July 16, by the White House.

The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields—including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences—that enhances our understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United States its global economic edge. The National Science Foundation administers the award, which was established by Congress in 1959.

Dervan, a former chair of Caltech's division of chemistry and chemical engineering, has influenced the course of research in organic chemistry through his studies at the interface of chemistry and biology.

A native of Boston, Dervan earned his BS from Boston College in 1967, and his PhD from Yale University in 1972. He was a postdoctoral fellow for a year at Stanford before arriving at Caltech as an assistant professor in 1973.

Dervan has pioneered a field of bioorganic chemistry with studies directed toward understanding the chemical principles for the sequence-specific recognition of the genetic material, DNA. He and his coworkers have combined the art of synthesis, physical chemistry, and biology to create synthetic molecules with affinities and sequence specificities comparable to nature's proteins. This chemical approach to DNA recognition underpins the design of programmable cell-permeable small molecules for the regulation of gene expression.

Dervan is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, a foreign member of the French Academy of Sciences and the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina. His awards include the Harrison Howe Award (1988), Arthur C. Cope Award (1993), Willard Gibbs Medal (1993), Nichols Medal (1994), Maison de la Chimie Foundation Prize (1996), Remsen Award (1998), Kirkwood Medal (1998), Alfred Bader Award (1999), Max Tishler Prize (1999), Linus Pauling Medal (1999), Richard C. Tolman Medal (1999), Tetrahedron Prize (2000), Harvey Prize (Israel) (2002), Ronald Breslow Award (2005), and the Wilbur Cross Medal (2005).

He has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Boards of Gilead Sciences since 1987, and the Robert A. Welch Foundation since 1988, and has served as a director of Beckman Coulter since 1998.

The National Medal of Science is presented annually by the president. Dervan and the other seven recipients will receive their awards at the White House on July 27.

Written by Robert Tindol