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Professor receives prestigious award for contributions to chemistry

October 23, 2006 By Terry Devitt

A University of Wisconsin–Madison scientist has won the 2005 Harrison Howe Award, a prize that annually honors outstanding contributions to the field of chemistry.

Photo of Kiessling


Laura Kiessling, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is the first UW–Madison faculty member to receive the award, as well as the first woman to win the prize on her own merit; the award’s only other female recipient shared the honor with her husband in 1947.

“This award is a great honor that recognizes the efforts of many talented graduate students and postdoctoral researchers I have had the opportunity to work with at UW–Madison,” Kiessling says. “The pool of women chemists is growing rapidly, and I am hopeful that many others will be future recipients of this award.”

Disbursed by the Rochester section of the American Chemical Society, the Harrison Howe Award has honored achievements in chemistry every year since 1946. The pioneering chemist Linus Pauling was the first scientist to win the award, and 40 percent of Harrison Howe awardees have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Kiessling works at the interface between chemistry and biology. She uses chemical “tools” to create biologically active molecules that can mimic natural interactions between living cells. When attached to the surface of a cell, Kiessling’s synthetic molecules can prod the cell to grow, die or move. The researcher is using such designer molecules to efficiently grow embryonic stem cells, or blank-slate cells that are capable of developing into virtually any type of cell, including, liver, heart and muscle tissue.

Kiessling received a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed doctoral research in chemistry at Yale University. In 1991, she joined UW–Madison, where she directs the Keck Center for Chemical Genomics. Kiessling is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves as editor in chief of the journal ACS Chemical Biology. She has received numerous awards and honors, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a National Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society’s 2007 Francis M. Garvan-John P. Olin Award.