Photo of Stephen J. Benkovic

Stephen J. Benkovic

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his research contributions in the field of bioorganic chemistry, which have changed our understanding of how enzymes function and advanced the identification of targets and strategies for drug design.

Stephen Benkovic on why he chose enzymes

Stephen Benkovic once described in an interview the anxiety he experiences in the middle of the night, the fear that his research might be incomplete. Or worse, that it taking him down a useless path.

“My greatest fear is that I am completely wrong,” Benkovic told Penn State University’s publication, Science Journal. “It’s a terrorizing thought, especially when you are discovering things people haven’t seen before.”

But in the case of Benkovic, one of the world’s most talented scientists, that fear is far from paralyzing. It actually serves a purpose, he said: It makes Benkovic and his team work harder, re-examining their research to make sure their conclusions are solid.

“When it comes time to publish our results, we stand behind them,” he told Science Journal.

That pioneering research by Benkovic, which has made him one of the world’s most prominent mechanistic enzymologists, has provided information that has paved the way for developing antibiotics and new drugs to fight cancer.

Benkovic joined Penn State University a few years after earning a doctorate degree in organic chemistry from Cornell University in 1963. He was also a co-founder of Anacor Pharmaceuticals.

By Robert Warren