Indian American Dr. Neal K. Devaraj, an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Bioengineering at the University of California in San Diego has been selected as one of the 2018 Laureates of the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, in the field of chemistry and will receive $250,000.
Devaraj was selected for his transformative work on the synthesis of artificial cells and membranes, creating an exciting new field of research that aims to address one of the great challenges in synthetic biology, according to a press release.
Over the years he has made several game-changing discoveries, including the development of new methods for labeling biological molecules, which have already been adopted by researchers globally.
Devaraj’s work on the synthesis of artificial cells has the potential to provide insights into the origins of life and work towards a solution for the question: can we synthesize life?
Along the way, he has developed tools for labeling biomolecules that are widely used by researchers and may one day be used in the clinic to detect and treat disease.
Studying the cell is what motivates Devaraj’s research.
“When I observe a cell, I marvel at how complex sets of molecules can assemble to form a living organism. I wonder, what is the minimal chemistry from which biology can emerge?” he is quoted as saying in a press release.
The cell represents the smallest unit of life and since all cells contain lipid membranes, Devaraj’s lab has been developing artificial membranes that can mimic a cell’s ability to reproduce continuously.
“My lab is developing technologies to unveil the secrets of life’s origin while simultaneously improving our understanding of modern-day biochemistry,” Devaraj said.
Using chemistry to solve questions in biology, he has developed new tools that uniquely perform tasks within living cells and his methods provide a means for efficient biological labeling and have been adopted by chemical biologists worldwide.
Devaraj has utilized his biocompatible chemistry to invent new ways to image and manipulate living organisms as he uses these techniques to develop novel tests and therapeutics that may be used to detect diseases earlier and treat them more effectively.
Devaraj has received many chemistry awards including the 2017 American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry, the 2016 National Fresenius Award sponsored by Phi Lambda Upsilon and a 2016 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.
He received his Postdoctoral Fellow from Harvard Medical School, his PhD from Stanford University and his Bachelor’s of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Others who were selected as 2018 Laureates of the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists include Dr. Janelle Ayres of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the field of Life Sciences and Dr. Sergei V. Kalinin of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the field of Physical Sciences & Engineering.
“These National Laureates have forged new paths that will vastly enhance their research disciplines. We are extremely excited to highlight these science superstars in this year’s Blavatnik National Awards and to see where their innovations and future discoveries take us in the years ahead,” Ellis Rubinstein, president and CEO of the Academy and Chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council, said in a press release.
The 2018 Blavatnik National Laureates, along with the 2018 Blavatnik National Finalists, will be honored at the Blavatnik National Awards ceremony on Monday, September 24, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.