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White House Honors Scientists

Awards: Winners of National Medals of Science and of Technology & Innovation include chemical scientists

by Susan R. Morrissey
October 3, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 40

President Barack Obama announced the recipients of the nation’s top awards bestowed on scientists, engineers, and inventors. The seven researchers honored with the National Medal of Science—including two chemists—and the five researchers honored with the National Medal of Technology & Innovation—including one chemist—will receive their awards at the White House later this year.

“Each of these extraordinary scientists, engineers, and inventors is guided by a passion for innovation, a fearlessness even as they explore the very frontiers of human knowledge, and a desire to make the world a better place,” the President said in a statement.

Jacqueline K. Barton, chemistry professor and chair of the division of chemistry and chemical engineering at Caltech, was selected as a Medal of Science recipient “for discovery of a new property of the DNA helix, long-range electron transfer, and for showing that electron transfer depends upon stacking of the base pairs and DNA dynamics.”

“It’s a great honor for me and for my research group, past and present, to have the work from our lab recognized,” Barton tells C&EN. “The wonderful thing about doing fundamental research is you don’t know where it will take you. We started with studies of simple metal complexes and DNA, and learning more about this chemistry has evolved into asking questions about DNA-mediated signaling across the genome.”

The other chemist to receive a Medal of Science this year is Peter J. Stang, chemistry professor at the University of Utah. He’s being honored for his “contributions to the development of organic supramolecular chemistry and his outstanding and unique record of public service.”

“I am very humbled, honored, and pleased,” Stang says. “To date, I have had approximately 100 postdoctoral students and Ph.D. students as well as some undergraduate students whom I mentored, and this recognizes their work too.”

Purdue University’s Rakesh Agrawal is the lone chemist among this year’s technology medalists. He’s being honored “for an extraordinary record of innovations in improving the energy efficiency and reducing the cost of gas liquefaction and separation.”

Of the honor, Agrawal says, “It is a pleasant surprise for me. I did not plan for it, but it is wonderful to be recognized.”

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