Past Winners of the AIC Gold Medal

Oliver Smithies

Oliver Smithies regales the crowd at Heritage Day 2009.

The AIC Gold Medal has been given in conjunction with CHF since 2003. For a complete list of the winners of the AIC Gold Medal dating back to 1923, visit the AIC’s website.

2015 | Jacqueline Barton

Jacqueline Barton’s academic career began with an assistant professorship at Hunter College, City University of New York. She then became an associate professor of chemistry and biological sciences at Columbia University and in 1986 a professor. In fall 1989 she joined the faculty at Caltech, and in 2009 she began her term as chair of the division.

Barton has pioneered the application of transition metal complexes to probe recognition and reactions of double-helical DNA. She has designed chiral metal complexes that recognize nucleic acid sites with specificities rivaling DNA-binding proteins. These synthetic transition metal complexes have been useful in elucidating fundamental chemical principles that govern the recognition of nucleic acids, in developing luminescent and photochemical reagents as new diagnostic tools, and in laying a foundation for the design of novel chemotherapeutics. Barton has also carried out seminal studies to elucidate electron-transfer chemistry mediated by the DNA double helix. Barton has trained more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral students, about half of whom are in academic positions.

Barton has received numerous awards, including the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Award in Pure Chemistry, the ACS Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, the ACS Garvan Medal, and the ACS Breslow Award in Biomimetic Chemistry. She has also received the ACS Baekeland Medal, the Fresenius Award, the ACS Tolman Medal, the Mayor of New York’s Award in Science and Technology, the Havinga Medal, the Paul Karrer Medal, the ACS Nichols Medal, the Weizmann Women and Science Award, the ACS Gibbs Medal, the ACS Cotton Medal, and the ACS Pauling Medal. She is a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and she has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine. In October 2011 Barton received the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama. She will receive the ACS Priestley Medal in 2015.

Barton was awarded the AB summa cum laude at Barnard College in 1974 and a PhD in inorganic chemistry at Columbia University in 1978. Her postdoctoral fellowship was at Bell Laboratories and Yale University.

2014 | Ronald Breslow

Ronald Breslow, professor of chemistry and biology at Columbia University, is one of 12 University Professors at Columbia and a former chairman of the chemistry department. His research includes synthesis of the cyclopropenyl cation, the simplest aromatic system and the first aromatic compound prepared with other than six electrons in a ring. He established the phenomenon of antiaromaticity and discovered the chemical mechanism used by thiamine (vitamin B1) in biochemical reactions. He has synthesized molecules that imitate enzymatic reactions, including the development of remote functionalization reactions and of artificial enzymes. Other research involved use of the hydrophobic effect in organic synthesis and in mechanistic chemistry. Recently Breslow developed a new group of cytodifferentiating agents with approved use in cancer chemotherapy and demonstrated chemistry that can account for the origin of prebiotic homochirality of amino acids and sugars on Earth.

He has been the chairman of the Board of Scientific Advisors of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a member of the Board of Trustees of Rockefeller University. He is on the editorial board of a number of scientific journals and has held over 200 named lectureships and visiting professorships.

Breslow was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1966; he is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the European Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He is a foreign fellow of the Indian National Science Academy, an honorary member of the Korean Chemical Society, an honorary member of the Royal Society of Chemistry of Great Britain, a foreign member of the Royal Society of Britain, a fellow of the World Innovation Foundation, an honorary member of the Chemical Society of Japan, and an honorary professor of the University of Science and Technology of China. His scientific awards include the American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry, the Fresenius Award, the Baekeland Medal, the Centenary Medal, the Harrison Howe Award, the Remsen Prize, the Roussel Prize in Steroids, the James Flack Norris Prize, the Richards Medal, the Arthur C. Cope Award, the Kenner Award, the Nichols Medal, the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemistry, the Allan Day Award, the Paracelsus Medal of the Swiss Chemical Society, and the U.S. National Medal of Science. Breslow was named one of the top 75 contributors to the chemical enterprise in the past 75 years in a poll of ACS members conducted by Chemical and Engineering News. He has won the Priestley Medal, the New York City Mayor’s Award in Science, the Bader Award in Bioorganic Chemistry, and the Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest. In 2003 he received the Robert Welch Award in Chemistry; in 2004, the Willard Gibbs Award; and in 2006, the Othmer Gold Medal and the Paul Gassman Medal. In 2007 he was honored with the Organic Syntheses Award; in 2010, the Perkin Medal; in 2012, the Topliss Award; and in 2013, the Frank Westheimer Medal. The American Chemical Society gives an annual award in his name: the Ronald Breslow Award in Biomimetic Chemistry.

In the area of education Breslow has received the Mark Van Doren Medal of Columbia University and the Columbia University Great Teacher Award. He served as president of the American Chemical Society in 1996.

Ronald Breslow has an AB in chemistry, an MA in medical science, and a PhD in chemistry from Harvard University, where he worked with R. B. Woodward. He also spent a year in Cambridge, England, as a postdoctoral fellow working with Lord Alexander R. Todd before accepting a position at Columbia University. 

2013 | John D. Roberts

John D. Roberts, Institute Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology, serves on the boards of directors of Organic Syntheses, Inc., and University Science Books and was a consultant to DuPont from 1950 to 2008. His research has been concerned with the mechanisms of organic reactions, the chemistry of small-ring compounds, and applications of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to organic and bioorganic chemistry and biochemistry. His current research encompasses the application of NMR to conformational analysis and theoretical organic chemistry.

After receiving his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1944 Roberts began his academic career as an instructor in chemistry at his alma mater. This position was followed by a National Research Council Fellowship at Harvard University in 1945. He then joined the staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946 as an instructor, was promoted to assistant professor in 1947, and to associate professor in 1950. In 1953 Roberts became a professor of organic chemistry at the California Institute of Technology; in 1972 he was appointed Institute Professor of Chemistry and in 1988 Institute Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus and Lecturer. From 1980 to 1983 he served Caltech as vice president, provost, and dean of the faculty.

Roberts’s numerous awards include the American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry (1954), the Priestley Medal (1987), the National Medal of Science (1990), the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal (1991), the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists and the Arthur C. Cope Award of the American Chemical Society (both in 1994), and the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences (1999). In 1998 he was named by Chemical and Engineering News as one of the 75 most influential chemists in the last 75 years. In 2008 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and in 2009 fellow of the American Chemical Society. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Roberts is the author, with M. C. Caserio, of Basic Principles of Organic Chemistry (1965 and 1977 editions), and has written other textbooks on NMR and Hückel molecular orbital calculations and more than 500 scientific papers. ACS Books published his autobiography, At the Right Place at the Right Time, in 1990.

2012 | Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research. She discovered the molecular nature of telomeres—the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving the genetic information—and the ribonucleoprotein enzyme telomerase. Blackburn and her research team at UCSF are working with various cells, including human cells, with the goal of understanding telomerase and telomere biology.

Blackburn earned B.Sc. (1970) and M.Sc. (1972) degrees from the University of Melbourne, and a Ph.D. (1975) from the University of Cambridge. She did her postdoctoral work in molecular and cellular biology at Yale University.

In 1978 Blackburn joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Department of Molecular Biology. In 1990 she joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UCSF, where she served as department chair from 1993 to 1999. She is also a nonresident fellow of the Salk Institute.

Throughout her career Blackburn has been honored by her peers as the recipient of many prestigious awards. She was elected president of the American Society for Cell Biology for 1998. Blackburn is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the Royal Society of London (1992), the American Academy of Microbiology (1993), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2000).

In 1993 she was elected foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences and in 2000 as a member of the Institute of Medicine. She was awarded the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in Basic Medical Research (2006). In 2007 she was named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People,” and she is the 2008 North American laureate of the L’Oreal−UNESCO Award for Women in Science.

In 2009 Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

2011 | Dudley Herschbach

Dudley Herschbach's major scientific work developed experimental methods and theory that enabled study of chemical reactions in single collisions between pairs of molecules. This work proved a strong stimulus to other research that enlarged the scope of molecular-level chemical physics, now pursued in hundreds of labs worldwide.

In 1959, after receiving a B.S. in mathematics and an M.S. in chemistry at Stanford University, followed by an A.M. in physics and a Ph.D. in chemical physics at Harvard University, Herschbach joined the chemistry faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1963 he returned to Harvard, where in 1976 he became the Baird Professor of Science and since 2003 has been Emeritus. His current research includes simulation of enzyme-DNA molecular motors as well as investigation of quantum phenomena involving molecular interactions under ultracold conditions, particularly wave function entanglement involved in proposed quantum computers.  

Herschbach has long been engaged in efforts to improve K-16 science education and public understanding of science. These efforts have included initiatives of the National Academy of Sciences as well as recent service as chair of the board of trustees of the Society for Science and the Public. 

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Chemical Society of Great Britain, Herschbach is also an honorary life member of the Association for Women in Science and the New York Academy of Sciences. His many awards include the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (won jointly with Yuan T. Lee and John C. Polanyi) and the National Medal of Science. He was named by Chemical & Engineering News one of the 75 leading contributors to the chemical enterprise in the past 75 years. 

2010 | Robert Grubbs

Robert H. Grubbs is the Victor and Elizabeth Atkins Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. His research group is involved in the design, synthesis, and mechanistic studies of complexes that catalyze basic organic transformations. The major focus of the group over the past few years has been the olefin metathesis reaction.

Grubbs received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Florida and an M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University. Before moving to Caltech, he was an associate professor at Michigan State University. Grubbs has authored nearly 500 publications, and his research has shaped more than 100 patents.

In 2005 Grubbs was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Yves Chauvin and Richard R. Schrock, for developing the metathesis method in organic synthesis. Grubbs’s discovery of a catalyst with the metal ruthenium, which was stable in air and demonstrated high selectivity but low reactivity, led to the first well-defined catalysts for general metathesis applications in ordinary laboratories. His metathesis breakthrough is a great step forward for green chemistry because it reduces potentially hazardous waste through smarter production.

Grubbs’s many other awards and honors include the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship, and an Alfred P. Sloan fellowship. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Chemical Society, and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

2009 | Oliver Smithies

During his exceptional career, Oliver Smithies fundamentally changed the science of genetic medicine and laid the foundation for current research into gene therapy through two major innovations. One of these, his co-discovery of gene targeting through homologous recombination in embryonic stem cells, advanced the effective treatment of many diseases and led to Smithies sharing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2007.

Smithies was born in 1925 in Yorkshire, England. He won a scholarship to Oxford University, where he earned a B.A. with first-class honors in physiology in 1946 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1951. As a researcher working at the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories of the University of Toronto between 1953 and 1960, Smithies greatly improved gel electrophotoresis, a process of separating proteins to identify genes, by using starch. His innovation simplified the procedure and became a standard practice in laboratories.

In 1960 Smithies joined the laboratory of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was there that he made groundbreaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and DNA recombination in mammals, which led to the creation of gene targeting, an immensely powerful technology now applied to virtually all areas of biomedicine. His laboratory was also the first to develop mouse models for such diseases as cystic fibrosis, thalassemia, hypertension, and atherosclerosis. In 1988 Smithies became the Excellence Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Smithies has received numerous other awards and honors, including the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal, the Wolf Prize, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, and the Gairdner Foundation International Award. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and the Royal Society of London.

2008 | Paul Berg (Co-Recipient)

A pioneer in genetic engineering, Paul Berg was the first investigator to construct a recombinant DNA molecule, that is, a molecule containing parts of DNA from different species. Further, the types of thinking that he brought to molecular biology were central to the development of the whole recombinant DNA capability.

Berg received a B.S. from the Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University. After serving on the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis, he went to Stanford University in 1959, where he chaired the Department of Biochemistry from 1969 to 1974 and served as director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine from 1985 to 2000. He also served as a director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 2004.

Berg is one of the principal pioneers in gene splicing, having developed the recombinant DNA technology and methods to map the structure and function of DNA. For these achievements, he was awarded the Lasker Basic Science Award, the Annual Award of the Gairdner Foundation, the National Medal of Science, and the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In addition, Berg is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, French Academy of Science, and the Royal Society (London). He has received honorary degrees from Yale University, the University of Rochester, Oregon State University, Washington University, Case Western Reserve University, and the Pennsylvania State University. 

Berg has served on the boards of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the Whitehead Institute and on the International Advisory Board of the Basel Institute of Immunology. He has chaired the Public Policy Committee of the American Society for Cell Biology and the Board of the National Foundation for Biomedical Research. He currently serves on the Committee on Scientific Communication and National Security for the National Academies. He is founder and principal scientific advisor of Schering-Plough’s DNAX Research Institute, a director of Affymetrix and of Gilead Sciences, and a scientific advisor to Burrill & Company and to Perlagen Sciences.

2008 | Walter Gilbert (Co-Recipient)

During his extraordinary career in molecular biology, Walter Glibert  has worked on the mechanism of protein synthesis, isolated the first genetic repressor, invented the rolling circle model of DNA replication, first expressed proinsulin in bacteria, and developed the argument that genes were created through the process of exon shuffling.

Gilbert received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Cambridge University and both an M.A. in physics and a B.A. in chemistry and physics from Harvard University. He began his teaching and research career at Harvard as a physicist but within a few years became fascinated with DNA, largely as a result of a growing friendship with James Watson, whom he met while at Cambridge. By 1964 Gilbert was officially tenured as a biophysicist at Harvard, working with Watson and others to discover messenger RNA, the transient intermediary molecule formed as a copy of DNA and involved in protein synthesis. Also in the 1960s Gilbert contributed to discoveries of molecules associated with the lac operon and furthered the understanding of DNA synthesis. He has held professorships in the Departments of Physics, Biophysics, Biochemistry, and Biology, and since 1985, in Molecular and Cellular Biology. He is currently the Carl M. Loeb University Professor Emeritus.

In 1980 Gilbert shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his codevelopment of a method for determining the sequence of nucleotide links in the chainlike molecules of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA). He developed the technique of using gel electrophoresis to decipher the order of the nucleotide sequences of DNA segments; his DNA-sequencing techniques revolutionized molecular biology, becoming fundamental in the study of DNA and making possible the Human Genome Project.

Gilbert has been involved in a number of successful commercial ventures, including cofounding Biogen, Myriad Genetics, Memory Pharmaceuticals, and Paratek Pharmaceuticals. Since 2001 he has been a managing partner in BioVentures Investors. Gilbert serves on the Scientific Governors Board of the Scripps Research Institute, and he received the Institute of American Entrepreneurs “Entrepreneur of the Year” award in 1991.

2007 | George Whitesides

George Whitesides received an A.B. degree from Harvard University in 1960 and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1964 under John D. Roberts. He was a member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1963 to 1982. He joined the Department of Chemistry at Harvard in 1982 and served as department chairman from 1986 to 1989. From 1982 to 2004, Whitesides was the Mallinckrodt Professor of Chemistry at Harvard and is currently the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor.

Whitesides is best known for his work in areas including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, organometallic chemistry, molecular self-assembly, and nanotechnology. His current research interests include physical and organic chemistry, materials science, biophysics, complexity, and the origin of life. According to Whitesides, the primary objective of his work is to fundamentally change the paradigm of science.

Whitesides is active in numerous public service roles. He has served on advisory committees for the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Defense. He has also served on the National Research Council in various capacities since 1984, including roles with the Committee on Science and Technology for Counter Terrorism and the Committee on Nanotechnology for the Intelligence Community.

Whitesides is the author of more than 950 scientific articles, and he is listed as an inventor on more than 50 patents. Thomson ISI ranked Whitesides fifth on the 1,000 most-cited chemists from 1981 to 1997. Among many awards and honors, he received the National Medal of Science in 1998, the Kyoto Prize in Materials Science and Engineering in 2003, and the Welch Award in Chemistry in 2005. Whitesides is the 2007 American Chemical Society Priestley Medal recipient.

Whitesides is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

2006 | Roald Hoffmann

Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel laureate, poet, and playwright, is a tireless advocate of the wonders of science and the beauty of chemistry. Hoffmann successfully shares his understanding of science with the public at large through literature, educational television, and even the stage.

Hoffmann was born in Złoczów, Poland. He came to the United States in 1949, studied chemistry at Columbia University, and earned his doctoral degree from Harvard University in 1962. He is now Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters at Cornell University, where he has worked since 1965. Hoffmann likes to characterize his contribution to chemistry as “applied theoretical chemistry,” his own blend of computations stimulated by experiment and coupled to the construction of generalized models, or frameworks for understanding.

Hoffmann’s publications include two well-known collections of poetry, The Metamict State and Gaps and Verges. His Chemistry Imagined, a unique collaboration with artist Vivian Torrence, reveals the creative and humanistic sparks of molecular science. The Same and Not the Same, a thoughtful and award-winning account of chemistry’s dualities, has been translated into five languages; and Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition, co-written with Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, intertwines science and religion.

Oxygen, a play written by Hoffmann and Carl Djerassi, premiered in the United States at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in 2001 and has since been produced at many theatres around the world. Hoffmann is also the presenter of a television course, The World of Chemistry, that has aired on PBS and on stations worldwide.

Hoffmann received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981 for his theories concerning the course of chemical reactions. He has also received the National Medal of Science and several awards from the American Chemical Society, including the Priestley Medal, the Arthur C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry, and the Award in Inorganic Chemistry. He holds more than 25 honorary degrees. Hoffmann is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and several foreign academies. He has published more than 450 scientific articles.

2005 | Robert L. McNeil Jr.

Pharmaceutical innovator, talented manager, community leader, Robert L. McNeil, Jr., grew a family business into a firm of national prominence, led the development of one of the leading pain relievers in the world, and continues to support many important community organizations. He combines brilliance in research with greatness in business and true goodness with a full life of service to his community and the world.

McNeil’s grandfather opened a pharmacy in the Kensington section of Philadelphia in 1879. There he manufactured and sold high quality medications that quickly won the professional endorsement of doctors and hospitals throughout the city. By the 1930s the family pharmacy had become McNeil Laboratories, and in 1936 Robert McNeil, Jr., began his long career there as a research chemist, ending as chairman of the board. By the early 1950s McNeil Laboratories had become a national concern employing more than 500 people and manufacturing more than 75 products.

In 1955 McNeil Laboratories introduced an aspirin-free prescription analgesic—Tylenol Elixir for children. Developed under the direction and guidance of McNeil, it was the first in a family of products that heralded a new era for the company. In time the Tylenol family of products would become the nation’s best-selling analgesic, placing McNeil Laboratories at the forefront in the world’s proprietary pharmaceutical industry. In 1959 the company was acquired by Johnson & Johnson.

McNeil was a member of the American Chemical Society and he served on the board of directors of the American Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and as president of the Philadelphia Drug Exchange and the Philadelphia branch of the American Pharmaceutical Association.

He received a degree in physiological chemistry and bacteriology from Yale and graduated with honors from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.

2004 | Carl Djerassi

Honored by CHF with the Othmer Gold Medal in 2000, Carl Djerassi is one of the few American scientists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology. He received the National Medal of Science for the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive (“the pill”) and the National Medal of Technology for promoting new approaches to insect control.

A member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as many foreign academies, Djerassi has received 19 honorary doctorates and numerous other honors, such as the first Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the first Award for the Industrial Application of Science from the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Chemical Society's highest award, the Priestley Medal.

Djerassi currently writes fiction, mostly in the genre of “science-in-fiction,” to illustrate the human side of scientists and the personal conflicts faced by scientists in their quest for scientific knowledge, personal recognition, and financial rewards. He has produced five novels, numerous short stories, and an autobiography. He has also embarked on a trilogy of “science-in-theatre” plays.

Djerassi is emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University. He is also the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California, which provides residencies and studio space for artists in the visual arts, literature, choreography and performing arts, and music. More than 1,300 artists have passed through that program since its inception in 1982.

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