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A Look Back at 2020 AAAS Award Winners: Nanoscientist Recognized for Chemistry Contributions

Chad Mirkin received the 2020 Philip Hauge Abelson Prize. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Since 1985, the annual Philip Hauge Abelson Prize has recognized individuals who have contributed significantly to the advancement of science in the United States. In 2020, the prize went to Chad Mirkin, one of the world’s most cited chemists, for his contributions to the fields of chemistry and nanoscience.

Mirkin, the director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, discovered and developed spherical nucleic acids, structures made by chemically arranging densely packed, highly oriented strands of DNA around a nanoparticle core. These structures can catalyze chemical transformations that conventional nucleic acids cannot, properties that have led to the development of diagnostic tools and pharmaceuticals.

Mirkin also has developed a number of tools and techniques that allow researchers to pattern nanostructures for a number of purposes. Among these is dip-pen nanolithography, named by National Geographic as one of 100 scientific discoveries that changed the world. DPN allows researchers to fabricate miniaturized chemical and biological structures using atomic force microscope tips that transfer molecular “inks” to surfaces.

He has been issued more than 350 patents 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 in use in hospitals around the world that can quickly test for a number of different bacteria and viruses.

“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 Peter Stang, a professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, in his letter nominating Mirkin for the award.

The Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, named in honor of a former editor of Science and a longtime adviser to AAAS, may be awarded to a public servant who has made exceptional contributions to scientific advancement or to a scientist whose career has been distinguished by both scientific achievement and service to the scientific community. The 2021 prize recipient will be announced during the AAAS Annual Meeting, to be held virtually Feb. 8-11. Register for the meeting today.

[Associated image: Northwestern University]



Andrea Korte

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