Issue Date: January 7, 2008
National Fresenius Award
Sponsored by Phi Lambda Upsilon, the National Honorary Chemical Society
Daniel T. Chiu, a chemistry professor at the University of Washington who studies bioanalytical chemistry and molecular neuroscience, "is one of the most productive young scientists I have ever seen," says Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor Nicholas Winograd.
"There are, every now and then, scientists who, at a young age, begin to make us think differently or to realize in the laboratory what we could only dream about," says Stephen G. Weber, chemistry professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "Chiu is one of those extremely rare, talented, and focused individuals who are redefining what chemical measurements can do."
These distinctions make Chiu a fitting recipient for the National Fresenius Award, which is presented to an outstanding young scientist who has attained national recognition in research, teaching, and/or administration.
Chiu is being honored for developing "powerful new physical methods for probing complex biological processes at the single-cell and single-molecule level," says University of Washington chemistry professor Charles T. Campbell. These methods will "advance our understanding of cellular biology and biological systems," he continues.
Among other innovations, Chiu devised a method to count the number of each type of protein in single cells or organelles such as synaptic vesicles. Campbell notes that Chiu's findings obtained with this technique "challenge current thinking on the method of control of synaptic function," the biochemical process that underlies learning and memory formation.
Not content with success in just one field, Chiu is also advancing nanoscale bioanalysis. "His approach uses laser-based single-cell nanosurgery to isolate subcellular compartments of interest and then to perform chemistry on the contents of the compartment in femtoliter-volume aqueous droplets," Campbell explains. Chiu then separates, identifies, and quantifies the biomolecules that are present. He has also developed methods to deliver bioactive molecules to a cell and "monitor its response with submicrometer and submillisecond spatiotemporal resolution," Campbell adds.
Overall, Chiu's work interests are to "build instruments that can chemically analyze and stimulate biological systems at the level of single cells and synapses, to apply these new methods to extract sufficient data to construct a quantitative model of cellular and synaptic function, and to develop a theoretical framework for understanding the underlying biological complexity," Campbell says.
Chiu surmises that his upbringing may have contributed to his adventurous and wide-ranging approach to science. Born in China in 1972 toward the end of the Cultural Revolution, he left home at age four. "At that time, you had to have a skill in order to make a living," he recalls. "They sent me out to be a violin player." He left China for Hong Kong a few years later and then attended boarding schools in the U.S.
As a result of these experiences, "I don't feel very worried about jumping into things that are new," Chiu says. "Sometimes that's not good because it defocuses the effort, but it makes it interesting."
He earned a B.A. in neurobiology and a B.S. in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1993 and a Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford University in 1998. After a postdoc at Harvard University, he became an assistant chemistry professor at the University of Washington in 2000. His honors include the W. M. Keck Foundation's Distinguished Young Scholar in Medical Research award.
Chiu will present the award address before the Division of Analytical Chemistry.
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