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2010 AAAS Mentor Award goes to Dr. Joseph M. DeSimone of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University

For his dedication to advancing the diversity of doctoral-level chemists entering the workforce, the 2010 Mentor Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be bestowed upon Dr. Joseph M. DeSimone.

Dr. DeSimonewho serves as both the Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and as the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State Universitywill receive his award during a 19 February ceremony at the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

"Dr. DeSimone's dedication to mentorship transcends the chemical sciences, and is rooted in his belief that diversification drives innovation," said Yolanda George, deputy director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. "For the past 20 years, he has mentored students in the classroom, in the laboratory, and as director of the UNC's National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes."

He has personally mentored at least nine African American students, one Hispanic American student, and 24 women through the completion of their Ph.D. degrees in chemistry, the AAAS award committee reported. He also teamed up with former mentee Valerie Ashby to launch a Chapel Hill-based chapter of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.

In a nomination letter, Chemical Heritage Foundation President and CEO Thomas R. Tritton described Dr. DeSimone's leadership style as "results-driven," yet compassionate. "Despite his many roles," Tritton wrote, Dr. DeSimone "consistently remains available to his mentees at any career stage. He has played a key mentor role in many students' processes for authoring manuscripts, applying to graduate programs, choosing career paths, and many other realms."

Another nominator, UNC-Chapel Hill's Cary C. Boshamer Professor of Chemistry Edward T. Samulski wrote: "Joe is unique in that he is a kind of alchemist: he can see the treasure hidden in the stone, whether the stone is a research idea or a human being."

Dr. DeSimone received his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1986 from Ursinus College and then earned his doctoral degree in chemistry in 1990 from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In 2005, DeSimone was elected into the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the founding director for both the UNC Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience and Technology, and the UNC Institute for Nanomedicine. He also serves as co-director of the Carolina Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

Dr. DeSimone's team is co-opting the fabrication technologies of the microelectronics industry to make new medicines and vaccines. He has developed a method for engineering drug particles that target disease within the body, while avoiding healthy cells. The technique, called PRINT, for "Particle Replication in Non-wetting Templates," lets researchers fabricate particles in a highly precise way, controlling their shape, size, composition, and function. The work shows promise for supporting the development of therapies for cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

He has likened the fabrication system to a nano-sized ice cube tray, which can be filled with the liquid precursors to medicines and vaccines, which then solidify into particles. Unlike other particle fabrication techniques, PRINT is compatible with a variety of next-generation agents used for cancer therapy, detection and imaging, including various "cargos" such as DNA, proteins, chemotherapy drugs, biosensor dyes, radio-markers, and contrast agents.

He recently discussed his research with an EarthSky reporter. "One of the challenges with a solid tumor like pancreatic tumors is that not too much of the drug actually gets into the tumor," he explained. "So we're trying to design more effective ways for getting the drugs into the tumor, instead of poisoning the entire body."

Dr. DeSimone is the recipient of 40 prestigious awards and honors, including being named one of the "100 Engineers of the Modern Era" by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Most recently, he was awarded the Director's Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health. He also was the 2009 recipient of the North Carolina Award, the highest honor that the state can bestow to recognize notable achievements of North Carolinians in the fields of literature, science, the fine arts and public service. In 2008, he received the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.

Established by the AAAS Board of Directors in 1996, the Mentor Award honors AAAS members who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) towards a Ph.D. degree in the sciences, as well as scholarship, activism, and community building on behalf of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. The award is directed towards individuals in the mid-stage of their careers, defined by roughly 25 years or less of mentoring experience. It includes a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, and complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Each year, the AAAS Board of Directors also bestows a Lifetime Mentor Award, in addition to the Mentor Award. The Lifetime Mentor Award this year will go to Dr. Joel D. Oppenheim, Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Science and Professor of Microbiology at the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Oppenheim was honored for his extraordinary leadership to increase the numbers of African Americans and Hispanic Americans within the biomedical workforce who hold doctoral degrees.

The AAAS Mentor Award will be presented at the 177th AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which will take place 17-21 February 2011. The awards ceremony and reception will be held in the Grand Ballroom North, Washington Renaissance Downtown, on Saturday, 19 February at 6:00 p.m.


Contact: Katharine Zambon
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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