Dutch chemist Dr Evan Spruijt won this year’s Dream Chemistry Award. The members of the Award’s Scientific Committee have in this way expressed their appreciation for a visionary project of creating artificial cells – microdroplets of water capable of autonomous growth and division. Creation of such cells in the laboratory would be an important step towards a deep understanding of physical and chemical foundations of life.
The Dream Chemistry Award (DCA), a prize awarded for a visionary research project waiting for implementation, was in this year presented to Dr Evan Spruijt, a chemist from the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles, France. Dr Spruijt, nominated by Prof. Wilhelm Huck from the Radboud University Nijmegen, won the DCA for a project of creating microdroplets of water that could be programmed so as to autonomously grow and divide under appropriate physical and chemical conditions – and thus to model the most important characteristics of the living cells. The winner received the prize at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw (IPC PAS) – the Contest organiser.
„The Contest allowed me to forget for a moment about what I was working on at present, and to return to a research problem that has been bothering me for a long time: what physical and chemical processes are responsible for the growth and division of cells”, said Dr Spruijt, the Dream Chemistry Award winner.
The Dream Chemistry Award Contest is addressed to researchers from around the world, aged not more than 36, who defended their doctoral dissertation (in this year’s edition) in 2006 or later. To have the Contest entry accepted, the candidate must have been nominated by a researcher holding the academic doctoral degree or higher, with at least twenty years’ experience in exact/life sciences since the date of publication of his/her first scientific paper.
„Many researchers, if not all, dream for years about solving scientific problems bothering them. Such dreams are extremely important, because they power human motivation. The motivation is essential for problem solving, and – as we know from the history of science – finally the problem is solved for the benefit of mankind”, said Prof. Robert Hołyst, the director of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the PAS.
The Honorary Committee of the Dream Chemistry Award Contest is composed of outstanding chemists: Prof. Richard Schrock (MIT), Nobel Prize winner; Prof. Krzysztof Matyjaszewski (Carnegie Mellon University) and Prof. Bartosz Grzybowski (Northwestern University).
The dream-project presented by Dr Spruijt in the present Dream Chemistry Award edition relates to recreating fundamental characteristics of the living cells, including their growth and division, in microdroplets inside microfluidic systems. The microdroplets of water containing synthesised, appropriately selected analytes would swim and gradually grow. A carefully controlled surrounding would allow for determining if, for instance, pressure is not one of the factors responsible for initialisation of the division of growing artificial cells.
“My microdroplets would not be typical living cells. They should be rather considered to be simplified cell models, models that can be constructed today. It is the simplicity of the models that could help find experimentally what physical and chemical processes are responsible for growth and division of real cells”, explained Dr Spruijt.
The other Dream Chemistry Award finalists are: Dr Hal Alper, biochemist from the University of Texas, Austin, USA (nominated by Prof. Thomas Truskett); Dr Eugen S. Andreiadis, chemist from the Commissariat a l'Énergie Atomique (CEA), Marcoule, France (nominated by Prof. Adam Proń from the Faculty of Chemistry, Warsaw University of Technology); Dr Paul C. Blainey, biochemist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA (nominated by Prof. Robert Hołyst from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the PAS, Warsaw), and Dr Peggy P. K. Lo, biochemist from the Department of Biology and Chemistry, City University of Hong Kong (nominated by Prof. Istvan T. Horvath).
The Award’s Scientific Committee is composed of renowned Polish scientists working in chemistry, physics, biology, medicine and materials engineering. The list of the members of the Scientific Committee is public and available from the Contest’s website. The members of both Committees signed a non-disclosure and non-use statement with regard to the contents of the projects submitted for the Contest.
More detailed information on the Dream Chemistry Award Contest can be found at: http://www.ichf.edu.pl/dreamchemistryaward/
Dr Hal Alper
Biochemist from the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Texas, Austin, USA. He graduated from the Chemical Engineering Department, University of Maryland, in 2002, and in 2006 obtained his PhD degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA, for the dissertation related to metabolic engineering of microorganisms. He completed two postdoctoral trainings dealing with the engineering of mammalian systems for protein production and the engineering of yeast systems for the production of biofuels. H. Alper has authored or co-authored more than 50 scientific publications.
Dr Eugen S. Andreiadis
Chemist from the Commissariat a l'Énergie Atomique (CEA), Marcoule, France, where he works on the development of efficient solvent extraction processes for the nuclear fuel cycle. He is an expert in organic, coordination and surface chemistry and photoactive supramolecular systems and nanomaterials. He graduated from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania, and defended his doctoral dissertation in 2009 at the Joseph Fourier University of Grenoble, France. E. S. Andreiadis has authored or co-authored over a dozen of scientific publications.
Dr Paul C. Blainey
Biochemist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA. He graduated in chemistry from the University of Washington, Seattle, and defended his doctoral dissertation on the mechanisms of DNA binding by proteins at Harvard University, Cambridge, USA. He completed a postdoctoral training at Stanford University dealing with methods for sequencing genomes of microorganisms. He worked at the NASA Ames Research Center, where he did research on the adaptation mechanisms of extremeophiles. P. C. Blainey has authored or co-authored more than 20 scientific publications.
Dr Peggy Pik Kwan Lo
Biochemist from the Department of Biology and Chemistry, City University of Hong Kong. She graduated from the Hong Kong Baptist University, and in 2010 defended her doctoral dissertation related to supramolecular DNA nanotechnology, including templated synthesis of DNA-mimetic polymers, at the McGill University, Canada. In her postdoctoral training at Harvard University she studied biofunctionalisation of nanodimonds in biological systems. P. K. Lo has authored or co-authored more than 20 scientific publications and three books in chemistry.
Dr Evan Spruijt
Chemist from the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles (ESPCI), France. He specialises in physics and chemistry of soft matter and focuses on application of classical concepts from physical chemistry to answer the key questions in biophysics, including those about the origin of cells, the mechanisms of cell growth and the collective phenomena in cells. He graduated from the Wageningen University, The Netherlands, where he also obtained his PhD degree in 2012. He completed his first postdoctoral training at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, and now is in the course of the second postdoc at the ESPCI and École Polytechnique, Paris. E. Spruijt has authored or co-authored more than 20 scientific publications.