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Caltech Chemist Peter Dervan to Deliver Lecture

Prestigious grant brings leading chemistry researcher to campus

The Southwestern University Chemistry Department will host prestigious Jean Dreyfus Boissevain Lecture featuring speaker Peter Dervan, Ph.D., renowned scientist from California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

“Professor Dervan is an internationally renowned chemist and recognized pioneer in chemical biology. In addition to being an incredibly outstanding and successful researcher, he is a passionate and inspirational teacher and gifted mentor,” said Maha Zewail-Foote, professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Southwestern.

Dervan is the Bren Professor of Chemistry in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech. His research has led him to create a new field of bioorganic chemistry with studies directed toward understanding the chemical principles for the sequence-specific recognition of DNA. He has combined the art of synthesis, physical chemistry and biology to create novel synthetic molecules with affinities and sequence specificities comparable to nature’s proteins for any predetermined DNA sequence. This biomimetic approach to DNA recognition underpins the design of cell-permeable molecules for the regulation of gene expression in vivo. The approach could have profound implications for human medicine.

“Having the opportunity to interact with a prominent contemporary scientist can profoundly influence and inspire budding scientists,” said Zewail-Foote. “It will be very invigorating for our students to be reminded that as scientists they can be torchbearers in the human quest for knowledge.”

Dervan will give a general lecture—“Molecular Recognition of DNA by Small Molecules”—on Thurs., April 9, at 4 p.m. in Room 105 of the F.W. Olin Building. The lecture is free and open to all campus and community members. An additional, more technical lecture will take place on Friday, April 10, at 12:30 p.m. in Fondren Jones Science Hall, Room 148.

Dervan is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a Foreign Member of the French Academy of Sciences and the German Academy of Sciences. He received the National Medal of Science from then President George W. Bush in 2006, as well as numerous “excellence in teaching awards” from Caltech. In addition to teaching, research and administrative duties, Dervan has served on several Scientific Advisory Boards for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, as well as the Robert A. Welch Foundation and Yale University Board of Trustees.

Southwestern is able to bring Dervan to campus through a Jean Dreyfus Boissevain Lectureship Award from The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., which provided an $18,500 grant to bring a leading chemistry researcher to campus and to support two undergraduate summer researchers. Southwestern was one of only five institutions in the country selected to receive the prestigious award.