About the Award

The NAS Award in Molecular Biology is supported by Pfizer Inc. and recognizes a recent notable discovery by a young scientist (no older than 50) who is a citizen of the United States. The award is presented with a medal and a $25,000 prize. Nominations are being accepted now for the 2025 Award.

Shu-ou Shan, California Institute of Technology, received the 2024 NAS Award in Molecular Biology.

Shan’s pioneering research has elucidated how newly synthesized proteins are transported to cell membranes, advancing our understanding of molecular mechanisms in complex biological pathways.

2024 NAS Award in Molecular Biology, social Shan

Shan’s research uses techniques in biochemistry, biophysics, and structural and molecular cell biology to probe the molecular decision-making processes during protein biogenesis. She has uncovered a series of checkpoints, filters, and proofreading mechanisms that impart fidelity to two of the cell’s major protein targeting pathways.

Watch Shan’s acceptance speech.

Award History

The NAS Award in Molecular Biology was first awarded in 1962 to Marshall Nirenberg for his studies of the molecular mechanisms for the biosynthesis of protein. In 1959 Nirenberg began to study the steps that relate DNA, RNA and protein. These investigations led to the demonstration with H. Matthaei that messenger RNA is required for protein synthesis and that synthetic messenger RNA preparations can be used to decipher various aspects of the genetic code (from Nirenberg’s Nobel biography). Nirenberg went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert W. Holley and H. Gobind Khorana in 1968 for “for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.”

Previous recipients of the NAS Award in Molecular Biology continue to achieve outstanding advancements in their fields. 10 recipients have been honored with a National Medal of Science, 19 recipients have received a Lasker Award, and 15 recipients have received a Nobel Prize in Medicine (Nirenberg 1968; Holley 1968; Temin 1975; Baltimore 1975; Nathans 1978; Blobel 1999; Sharp 1993; Horvitz 2002; Blackburn 2009; Szostak 2009; Südhof 2013; Fire 2006; Mello 2006), and in Chemistry (Gilbert 1980; Cech 1989).

Most Recent Recipient
Shu-ou Shan, 2024 NAS Award in Molecular Biology.
Shu-ou Shan
Call for Nominations

Awards will be presented in a variety of fields including biophysics, astronomy, microbiology, medical sciences, and more.

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Previous Award Recipients

Jason S. McLellan
Carrie Partch
Joseph D. Mougous
Hashim Murtadha Al-Hashimi
David Reich
Howard Y. Chang