05/16/2006 07:00:00

Caltech Chemist Jacqueline Barton Receives Gibbs Medal from American Chemical Society

PASADENA, Calif.—Jacqueline Barton, the Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor and professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, has been named the 2006 recipient of the Willard Gibbs Award. The honor was bestowed on Barton at a special award dinner hosted by the Chicago section of the American Chemical Society on May 12 in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Barton becomes the second woman to receive the honor in its 95-year history, the first having been Marie Curie in 1921. Barton and her husband, Peter Dervan (the Bren Professor of Chemistry at Caltech), also become the first husband and wife to have won the Gibbs Award.

Established in 1911, the Gibbs Award is presented annually to a researcher who pioneers new avenues of investigation in chemistry. Barton is cited for her "major impact on the understanding of the molecular chemistry of DNA and its relevance to the development of a variety of diseases and inherited abnormalities.

"Her work is elegant, vitally important work that has been widely recognized for its novelty and significance," the citation continues. "Professor Barton pioneered the application of transition metal complexes as tools to probe recognition and reactions of double helical DNA. This work provides a new approach to the study of DNA structure and dynamics. She has carried out important studies to examine the transport of electric charge through DNA, establishing reactions by which DNA can be damaged from a distance as well as how lesions in DNA can be repaired, locally or at distant sites on the DNA helix. Her work also provides the basis for sensitive diagnostic sensors for DNA."

A New York native, Barton earned her bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, at Barnard College in 1974 and her doctorate in inorganic chemistry at Columbia University in 1978. After several years on the faculty at Columbia, she joined the Caltech faculty in 1989.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1991, the 1985 Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation, which recognizes an outstanding young science or engineering researcher, and the 1988 American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry. She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991, fellow of the American Philosophical Society in 2000, and in 2002 Barton was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Other American Chemical Society awards include the 1987 Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, the 1992 Garvan Medal, the 1997 Nichols Medal, and the 2003 Breslow Award. She has also received the Columbia University Medal of Excellence in 1992, the Mayor of New York's Award in Science and Technology in 1988, the Paul Karrer Gold Medal (University of Zurich) in 1996, and the Weizmann Woman & Science Award in 1998. She has received several honorary degrees, including last year a Doctor of Science from Yale University.

Written by Robert Tindol