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Stephen Benkovic Awarded the 2011 National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences

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25 January 2011

Stephen J. Benkovic, an Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Chemistry at Penn State, has been awarded the 2011 National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences. He was chosen to receive the award for his groundbreaking contributions to understanding catalysis and complex biological machines -- the purinosome and DNA polymerases -- and for demonstrating the power of chemistry to solve biological problems. Supported by the Merck Company Foundation with a monetary prize, the award honors innovative research in the chemical sciences that contributes to a better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity.

Benkovic is renowned for his research accomplishments, which have been described as highly original, of unusual breadth, and as having a profound impact on understanding how proteins function as catalysts. His work is continually considered to be at the forefront of research at the interface of chemistry and biology, and he is considered to be among the most prominent mechanistic enzymologists in the world. Last year Benkovic was one of ten eminent researchers named by President Obama to receive the 2009 National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research.

Benkovic's studies feature state-of-the-art chemical-biological techniques that include the development and application of innovative kinetic methods, the invention of novel biological protocols for investigating the chemical sequence and structural basis of enzyme activity, and the discovery of enzyme inhibitors with therapeutic potential. With these techniques, he has studied many different enzyme systems that are important in human biology, including research that has been of fundamental importance in the design of cancer drugs and antibiotics.

Throughout his career, Benkovic has received many awards in recognition of his scientific achievements, including a National Medal of Science in 2009. He became a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2002, a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1987, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1985, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984.

Benkovic's additional honors include the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry given by the American Chemical Society in 2010, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science in 2009, the Royal Society Centenary Award in 2006, the Nakanishi Prize of the American Chemical Society in 2005, the Merck Award of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2003, the Christian B. Anfinsen Award in 2000, the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists in 1998, an honorary doctorate-of-science degree from Lehigh University in 1995, the Alfred Bader Award of the American Chemical Society in 1994, the Repligen Award in 1989, the National Institutes of Health Merit Award in 1988, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1988, the Gowland Hopkins Award in 1986, the Pfizer Enzyme Award in 1977, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976, the National Institutes of Health Career Development Award from 1969 to 1974, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship from 1968 to 1974, and the Eastman Kodak Scientific Award in 1962.

Benkovic is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Federation of American Biologists, Sigma Xi, and the Chemical Society. He serves as a scientific advisor to the Corning, Myriant, and Anacor companies as well as the venture-capital firms Rho and Ascent Bio Ventures. Locally near Penn State, he is a member of the external advisory group for the Geisinger Medical Center, and serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as well as of various committees for the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

A 1960 graduate of Lehigh University with magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa honors and bachelors degrees in English literature and in chemistry, Benkovic earned a doctoral degree in organic chemistry with minors in physical chemistry and biochemistry at Cornell University in 1963. From 1964 to 1965 he was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1965 and was promoted to associate professor in 1967, then to professor in 1970. The University honored him with the title of Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry in 1977, Holder of the University Chair in Biological Sciences in 1984, and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Chemistry in 1986.

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