Carnegie Mellon University
March 10, 2011

Press Release: World-Renowned Chemist To Receive Carnegie Mellon's Dickson Prize in Science

Using Biological Cells, David Tirrell Creates Synthetic Molecules For Use in Biomedical Technologies

Contact: Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 /

david tirrellPITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University will award its prestigious 2010 Dickson Prize in Science to world-renowned chemist and materials scientist David Tirrell. Tirrell is best known for creatively applying principles from the realms of biology and chemistry to address problems in polymer synthesis. 

Tirrell will receive the award, which includes a medal and cash prize, before giving the Dickson Prize Lecture at 4:30 p.m., Monday, March 21 in the Mellon Institute Auditorium, 4400 Fifth Ave., Oakland. His lecture, titled "Reinterpreting the Genetic Code," is free and open to the public. 

CMU's prestigious Dickson Prize in Science was established in 1969 by the late Pittsburgh physician Joseph Z. Dickson and his wife Agnes Fisher Dickson. It is awarded annually to individuals in the United States who make outstanding contributions to science. 

Tirrell is the Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor and former chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. Prior to joining CalTech, he served on the faculty at CMU's Department of Chemistry and at the University of Massachusetts. Early in his career he made notable discoveries in the area of macromolecular synthesis that made the development of smart materials - those that respond to external cues like light, pH or temperature - possible. 

Later in his career, he focused on finding ways to use biology to solve critical challenges in chemistry. In one of his most notable pieces of work to date, Tirrell reprogrammed the genetic code of biological cells, turning them into factories that tailor-make artificial, protein-like macromolecules with unique and functional properties. These macromolecules are being used to develop biomedical technologies. 

Tirrell has received numerous awards and honors, including the American Chemical Society Award in Polymer Chemistry, the G.N. Lewis Medal from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Arun Guthikonda Memorial Award from Columbia University. He is a fellow of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. 


Pictured above is David Tirrell, a world-renowned chemist and materials scientist, who won the 2010 Dickson Prize in Science.