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The Scientist

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2002 John Scott Awards
Mario Capecchi and Joseph DeSimone awarded the 2002 John Scott Awards

By David Bruce

Biologist Mario Capecchi and Chemist Joseph DeSimone received the 2002 John Scott Awards at a ceremony in Philadelphia today.

The John Scott Award to Mario Capecchi, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Utah, recognizes his work in successfully targeting specific genes by homologous recombination. This allows precise changes to be made to selected genes and enabled the subsequent development of 'knockout' mice.

Bob Perry at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, USA, said of Capecchi's work, "It is very important to recognize how powerful a tool this technology is. Knockout mice are routinely used in hundreds, if not thousands of labs worldwide, and have enabled great advances to be made in the field of mouse development and, by extrapolation, human development studies."

Capecchi has been awarded many prizes, including the 2001 Lasker Award, but according to Perry the John Scott Award is, "in some ways a more difficult prize to receive than some of the more well-known awards, since only two medals are awarded each year, and winners can come from any scientific or engineering discipline."

The other recipient is Joseph DeSimone, William R. Kenan, Jr Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA, for his seminal contributions to the manufacture and processing of polymers in environmentally friendly ways.

In particular he is being recognized for his work on supercritical carbon dioxide. Subjecting CO2 to high pressure causes it to enter a phase somewhere between a liquid and a gas. In this state the CO becomes an excellent solvent, rendering it ideal for the delivery of pharmaceuticals without the side effects associated with other excipients. This property is also of use in the dry cleaning industry; the supercritical CO can replace existing solvents such as perchloroethylene, thereby substantially reducing the environmental impact of the cleaning process.

Professor Amos Smith at the Department of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, said of the prize, "I think it is terrific that Joseph DeSimone has been given this award, since his work definitely falls within the remit of improving the conditions of others."

The award was established in 1826 by the Scottish pharmacist John Scott, with the aim of identifying "the most deserving men and women whose inventions have contributed in some outstanding way to the comfort, welfare and happiness of mankind." Scott "entrusted the Corporation of Philadelphia with the management of  Dr [Benjamin] Franklin's legacy to bestow upon 'ingenious men or women who make useful inventions' a premium not to exceed twenty dollars and a suitably inscribed copper medal." Over the years the legacy has grown to be a much more substantial sum, this year's winners will receive $10,000, but the medal remains largely unchanged.

Links for this article

John Scott Award http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/johnscottaward.html
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Utah http://www.neuroscience.med.utah.edu/Faculty/Capecchi.html
Fox Chase Cancer Center http://www.fccc.edu/
D. Bruce, "The 2001 Lasker Award Winners announced," The Scientist, 17 September, 2001. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20010917/02/
Joseph DeSimone http://www.chem.unc.edu/people/faculty/desimonejm/jmdgroup/
Amos Smith http://www.sas.upenn.edu/chem/faculty/smith/smith.html