Peter B. Dervan
National Medal of Science
For his fundamental research contributions at the interface of organic chemistry and biology, and for his influence in education and industrial innovation.
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BirthJune 28, 1945
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsBioorganic Chemistry
Awarded byGeorge W. Bush
Areas of ImpactHealth & Medicine
AffiliationsCalifornia Institute of Technology
Peter B. Dervan is a pioneer in the field of bioorganic chemistry, bridging the worlds of chemistry and biology. His research helped shape the understanding the chemical principles used in sequencing genetic material.
Dervan began his career in the field of physical organic chemistry, an area of research that had already seen is greatest discoveries decades before he earned his PhD. It wasn’t until he began teaching physical organic chemistry at the California Institute of Technology that he realized he didn’t want to refine a well known field — he wanted to make a splash in a new one.
“I had to pick a problem that would be worthy of 40 years of my life. Forty years of discovery,” he said of his research. “I had to walk through a door that was so new that there would be lots of work to be done.”
From there Dervan shifted gears to focus on molecular recognition, a brand new field, ripe with the potential for discovery.
“I feel very lucky that at a very young age I found my passion and never looked back,” he said. “It’s been a great ride ever since.”
By Christine Ayala