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On March 23, five University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members and one former student were recognized by the American Chemical Society at its annual meeting in San Francisco.
By David Tenenbaum
* Lawrence F. Dahl, professor emeritus of chemistry: Dahl has won the F. Albert Cotton Award in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry for building large molecules containing metals, such as nickel, platinum and gold. He says these record-setting nanosized metal clusters, generally containing 50-165 close-packed metal atoms, could become the basis for nanotechnology materials with useful catalytic, electronic, magnetic and optical properties. Dahl mentored 95 Ph.D. students during his tenure at UW-Madison and continues to perform research during retirement.
* Clark Landis, professor of chemistry: Landis won the Award in Organometallic Chemistry for influential contributions to a branch of chemistry that combines metals and organic compounds, with a focus on the use of catalysts to build the long-chain molecules called polymers. His studies helped explain the behavior of the catalysts that plastics manufacturers use to make billions of pounds of polyethylene and polypropylene. Landis has helped discover how catalysts control whether a developing molecule will take the "left-hand" or a "right-hand" shape. Identical molecules with these mirror-image shapes can have distinct biological properties.
Sang-Hee Shim (Ph.D. chemistry) and Martin Zanni, associate professor of chemistry: Shim and Zanni won the Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in Chemistry for studies that have revolutionized the technology of infrared spectroscopy, which uses light to obtain information about the structure and composition of molecules. During her Ph.D. work with Zanni, Shim learned to control light with extreme precision, and then used it to study changes in amyloid fibers, which are strongly implicated in Alzheimer's disease. Zanni became the first person to receive this award as both student and mentor; Shim is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
* Helen Blackwell, associate professor of chemistry: Blackwell won the society's Cope Scholar Award for studies of chemical communication among bacteria. Using "quorum sensing," bacteria can change behavior when their population passes a threshold. Quorum sensing can explain how bacteria can quietly persist at low concentrations, and then suddenly become pathogenic. Blackwell has designed and built synthetic molecules to prevent bacteria from orchestrating group activities such as infection or forming drug-resistant biofilms, and is also examining how bacteria use quorum sensing to interact with higher organisms. "We'd like to understand how quorum sensing impacts host colonization and see if we can use non-native molecules to perturb any potential cross talk between the bugs and us," she says. Blackwell will formally receive the award at the next society annual meeting in Boston.
* Ron Seely, senior lecturer, life sciences communication: Seely won the Grady-Stack award for his coverage of science and environment at the Wisconsin State Journal during more than 20 years. His reporting has ranged from scientific discoveries at UW-Madison to city drinking water and, most recently, the environmental challenges posed by manure disposal at large concentrations of farm animals.
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