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Jacqueline K. Barton, California Institute of Technology, received the 2019 NAS Award in Chemical Sciences.

For more than three decades, Barton has provided groundbreaking research into the chemistry of DNA and made pioneering contributions to our understanding of the chemical and biological properties of the DNA double helix.

Barton’s early research led to a new way to study DNA: using metal complexes as probes for local structural variations in the DNA double helix. The new technique overcame the limitations of conventional spectroscopic methods and enabled mapping of the helix strand. It also led to the development of new diagnostic tools and provided the groundwork for novel chemotherapeutics.

Barton soon turned to the study of electron transfer through the helix, where her work showed that long-range electron transport could either damage or repair DNA, and that detecting this electron transfer could provide a new way of identifying genomic damage. The Barton Group currently focuses on developing probes for DNA mismatches and lesions, examining the biological implications of DNA charge transport—notably in DNA repair and replication—and designing electrochemical devices which can sense DNA damage or report on binding events between DNA and proteins.

Through all of this work, Barton has inspired new generations of chemists and served as a mentor for scholars across the industry.

The NAS Award in Chemical Sciences is presented annually to honor innovative research in the chemical sciences that contributes to a better understanding of the natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity. The NAS Award in Chemical Sciences was established in 1978 and was supported by Occidental Petroleum Corporation from 1978 to 1996. The Merck Company Foundation assumed sponsorship in 1999. The award is presented with a medal and a $15,000 prize.


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