Chad Mirkin, director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, is the winner of the 2020 Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, which is presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to a scientist or public servant who has contributed significantly to the advancement of science in the United States.
“Uniquely, Chad is both, and his contributions have spanned research, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, public understanding, and national service and public policy,” said Peter Stang, a professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, in his nomination letter.
A professor of chemistry, chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering, and medicine, Mirkin is being honored for multiple contributions to the fields of chemistry and nanoscience.
One of the most cited chemists in the world, Mirkin discovered and developed spherical nucleic acids (SNAs), structures made by chemically arranging densely packed, highly oriented strands of DNA around a nanoparticle core. SNAs exhibit chemical and physical properties distinct from their linear counterparts. For instance, they actively are transported into living cells and can catalyze chemical transformations that conventional nucleic acids cannot, properties that have led to the development of diagnostic tools and pharmaceuticals.
Mirkin also has invented and developed a series of scanning probe-based tools and techniques that allow researchers to pattern nanostructures for a number of purposes. Among these printing techniques is dip-pen nanolithography (DPN), named by National Geographic as one of 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world. DPN transforms scanning probe tools from imaging techniques to chemical synthesis tools and allows researchers to fabricate miniaturized chemical and biological structures using atomic force microscope tips that transfer molecular “inks” to surfaces. Mirkin’s polymer pen lithography technique builds on DPN and employs millions of polymer tips to transfer molecules over a larger surface area in a high-throughput fashion.
He has over 1,200 patent applications (more than 350 issued) and has founded eight biotechnology and nanofabrication companies that have commercialized more than 2,000 products, including the Verigene system, a low-cost medical diagnostic tool able to quickly test for a number of different bacteria and viruses. It is in wide use in hospitals around the world.
“The breadth of impact of Dr. Mirkin’s chemical discoveries are virtually unrivaled, and they have had a positive impact on society and humanity and enabled us to better understand the world around us,” said Stang.