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Illinois professor wins Packard Fellowship

James Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
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Scott K. Silverman
Photo by Bill Wiegand
High honors Scott K. Silverman, a UI professor of chemistry, is among 16 U.S. researchers named 2003 Packard Fellows in natural sciences. He will receive $625,000 during the next five years to enhance his research efforts.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Scott K. Silverman, a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is among 16 U.S. researchers named 2003 Packard Fellows in natural sciences by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. He will receive $625,000 during the next five years to enhance his research efforts.

Silverman, 31, joined the Illinois faculty in July 2000. He received his fellowship in recognition of his work on developing unconventional applications of DNA for use in chemistry, biochemistry and nanotechnology.

"Professor Silverman is the eighth member of the Illinois chemistry department to win a Packard Fellowship," said Gregory Girolami, the head of the department. "No other chemistry department in the nation has more than four Packard Fellows."

Silverman joins Andrew Gellman, Martin Gruebele, Eric Jacobsen, Neil Kelleher, Nancy Makri, Todd Martinez and Jonathan Sweedler as previous Illinois chemistry faculty who have won this award. "This record is a tangible measure of the high quality of our department and our continued success in attracting the best scientists to our faculty," Girolami said.

Silverman earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1991 from the University of California at Los Angeles, and his doctorate in chemistry in 1997 from the California Institute of Technology. Before coming to Illinois, Silverman carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Colorado with professor Thomas Cech, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

As a graduate student at Caltech, Silverman solved major problems in the area of organic magnetism, working with professor Dennis Dougherty. He then made a dramatic shift, and in collaboration with professor Henry Lester’s group, began to study ion channel proteins by the incorporation of unnatural amino acids using molecular biological techniques. His current research interests are in RNA folding and catalysis, as well as using DNA as a novel basis for control of molecular structure and catalysis of chemical reactions.

Among his awards, Silverman recently received a Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award from the March of Dimes Foundation and a New Investigator Award in the Pharmacological Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society and the RNA Society.

The Packard Foundation, founded in 1964 and based in Los Altos, Calif., provides funding to early-career scientists to pursue their science and engineering research with few restrictions. Each year, new fellows are chosen from nominations submitted by the presidents of 50 universities.