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The Benkovics

Committee advances plan to rename Chemistry Building as 'Benkovic Building'

16 February 2024

Editor's note: The full Board of Trustees approved the name change at its meeting on Feb. 16.

The Penn State Board of Trustees Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning today (Feb. 15) advanced a proposal to rename the Chemistry Building at the University Park campus in honor of the careerlong scholarly impact of Stephen Benkovic, Atherton Professor of Chemistry. 

The plan will be considered by the full board on Feb. 16. 

“Stephen Benkovic is a world leader in chemical biology, whose work defined the field and our understanding of biological principles,” said Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “His meteoric rise through the ranks at Penn State is unparalleled, and he continues to bring prestige to our institution. A decorated researcher, entrepreneur and educator, he embodies the University’s mission of creating new knowledge and fostering innovation for the benefit of society and serves as a role model to many across the globe. The naming of the Benkovic Building recognizes this extraordinary research impact and the high regard that Penn State holds for Steve and his wife, Pat. They are an incredible team whose legacy is amplified through the trainees they have mentored.”  

Benkovic joined the University’s faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1965, became a full professor in 1970 and was named Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry in 1977. His work at the University defined the field of bio-organic chemistry and set the stage for its rapid development. Aimed at understanding biological phenomena through the application of chemical principles, Benkovic’s research has been fundamental in the design of new treatments for bacterial and fungal infections, HIV and cancer, and he is a highly sought-after scientific consultant in academia, industry and government.  

Stephen Benkovic
Stephen Benkovic joined the University’s faculty as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1965, became a full professor in 1970 and was named Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry in 1977. Credit: Penn State. Creative Commons

Benkovic is one of only a handful of Atherton Professors — a recognition of the continuing high level of scholarship of Evan Pugh University Professors Emeriti. 

“Pat and I are surprised and deeply humbled,” Benkovic said. “Together with Pat’s experimental expertise and my excitement to apply chemistry to unsolved problems in biology, we have created a rich legacy of discoveries. Little of this would have been possible without the men and women whom I instructed and mentored that now are in equivalent positions throughout the world. By honoring us, the University affirms its commitment to fostering excellence in research by its faculty.”   

Constructed in 2004, the Chemistry Building encompasses 189,000 gross square feet, including more than 85 research laboratories comprising of more than 50,000 square feet of research lab space. 

Andrew Read, senior vice president for research, said, “Stephen Benkovic’s ability to translate scientific discoveries into profitable technology is unparalleled in the Eberly College of Science and among the very best in Penn State’s history. His careerlong interest in drug discovery and the mechanism of drug action has led to a number of important discoveries with significant human health implications. Naming the Chemistry Building in honor of this brilliant chemist demonstrates that Penn State values outstanding scientific contributions and their translation to real-world applications that improve human well-being.” 

One example is Crisaborole — a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug for treating atopic dermatitis — which was discovered and developed through Benkovic’s research at Anacor Pharmaceuticals, a biotech startup he founded that was subsequently acquired by Pfizer.  

Benkovic has dedicated more than half a century — his entire career — to Penn State. Over the years, he has advised more than 175 students and postdocs, many of whom are making their own meaningful contributions to biological chemistry.  

“It is imperative for universities to honor our academic legends, and Steve Benkovic is truly a legend in the field of chemistry,” said Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi. "Naming the Chemistry Building in honor of the immense impact both Steve and Pat Benkovic have had on this University is both a recognition of that impact and an affirmation of our commitment to honor the excellence they embody. I extend my heartfelt thanks to the Benkovics for their tremendous contributions to and support of our University, its world-class research enterprise, and our important mission of educating the next generation of scholars and leaders.” 

A selection of awards and fellowships Benkovic has received includes the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1968-74), National Institutes of Health Career Development Award (1969-74), Guggenheim Fellowship (1975), and Nakanishi Prize (2005). In 2009, he received the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama. He also has been elected to memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and American Philosophical Society, and he was most recently elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 2021. He received an honorary Penn State degree in 2017 in recognition of his significant contributions toward its welfare, reputation and prestige.   

The Benkovics have made numerous philanthropic contributions to Penn State in support of interdisciplinary research awards through the Department of Chemistry and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences (the Patricia and Stephen Benkovic Research Initiative), support for summer research opportunities for chemistry undergraduates in the Penn State Eberly College of Science (the Stephen and Patricia Benkovic Summer Research Award in Chemistry), and broad and general support for WPSU and Penn State Outreach. They were recently inducted to the Laurel Circle — part of the Mount Nittany Society, which represents the pinnacle of philanthropy at Penn State. 

“Stephen Benkovic continues to be an amazing academic trailblazer,” said Phil Bevilacqua, department head and professor of chemistry at Penn State. “Steve’s prominence in our University community, and the critical support of Pat, has immeasurably enhanced our leadership in cutting-edge science. His remarkable legacy will also live on through the Penn State graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who now have made successful careers of their own throughout the world. The impact of Steve on the department, college and University has been profound, and it is suiting to name the building in his honor.”