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Innovative researcher and distinguished professor George M. Whitesides, Ph.D., will speak on revolutionary ideas in the field of chemistry about the origin of life at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, in Graham Chapel as part of the Assembly Series. His talk, "Questions about Questions about the Origin of Life," is the annual Ferguson Science Lecture and is free and open to the public.
Whitesides is excited about the promise of modern science, especially chemistry. In a recent talk, he said chemistry is the best-equipped discipline to work on the most engaging problems in fundamental and applied science, including the origin of life. What is needed, he said, are new and revolutionary ideas — the kinds of ideas that revolutionized physics in the 1910s and biology in the 1950s.
Whitesides is renowned for bridging various disciplines and creating novel solutions. At Harvard University, he works with an active research group of more than 35 graduate and postdoctoral students who learn how to carry out multidisciplinary research and how to communicate their research effectively. He has mentored and taught many chemists who now hold influential positions in academia and industry.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1960 and a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1964. He was a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1963-1982, when he joined the department of chemistry at Harvard. In 2004, he was named Harvard's first Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor.
Whitesides is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science in 1998 in recognition for his innovative, cross-disciplinary research and his extensive involvement with teaching, government and industry.
In 2003, the Inamori Foundation of Japan awarded him the prestigious Kyoto Prize for his pathbreaking contribution to the development of nanotechnology. In 2007, the American Institute of Chemists (AIC) awarded him a Gold Medal for his unique insights into surface chemistry, including the molecular self-assembly process. According to the AIC, "These studies have laid the groundwork for advances in nanoscience, leading to new technologies in electronics, pharmaceutical science and medical diagnostics." Also in 2007, he received the Priestley Medal, the highest honor conferred by the American Chemical Society.
He is the author of more than 900 research papers and holds more than 50 patents. His memberships include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Chemical Society. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Physics.
Beyond his scientific research, he participated in the National Academies' report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," which addressed the United States' competitiveness in science and technology. Whitesides has served on advisory committees for the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense.
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