Photo of Peter B. Dervan

Peter B. Dervan

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his fundamental research contributions at the interface of organic chemistry and biology, and for his influence in education and industrial innovation.

Peter Dervan describes his research

Peter B. Dervan is a pioneer in the field of bioorganic chemistry, bridging the worlds of chemistry and biology. His research helped shape the understanding the chemical principles used in sequencing genetic material.

Dervan began his career in the field of physical organic chemistry, an area of research that had already seen is greatest discoveries decades before he earned his PhD. It wasn’t until he began teaching physical organic chemistry at the California Institute of Technology that he realized he didn’t want to refine a well known field — he wanted to make a splash in a new one.

“I had to pick a problem that would be worthy of 40 years of my life. Forty years of discovery,” he said of his research. “I had to walk through a door that was so new that there would be lots of work to be done.”

From there Dervan shifted gears to focus on molecular recognition, a brand new field, ripe with the potential for discovery.

“I feel very lucky that at a very young age I found my passion and never looked back,” he said. “It’s been a great ride ever since.”

By Christine Ayala