Past Laureates of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler International Prize in Biophysics


Research Field: "Physical Principles of Biological Systems"



Prof. Ken A. Dill from the Department of Chemistry, Director of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology, Stony Brook University


Citation: Decisive contributions to the understanding of protein folding


Ken A. Dill played a pivotal role in the application of physical principles to the problem of protein folding – how a linear sequence of chained amino acids spontaneously collapses into a well-defined three-dimensional structure. He was among the very first to recognize the relevance of concepts from the statistical physics of polymer chains to protein structure, and to adapt these concepts to the transition of proteins from the denatured to the folded state. Ken Dill established the dominance of the hydrophobic effect – the tendency of poorly soluble amino acid groups to minimize contact with the aqueous surroundings – in determining the secondary and tertiary structures of proteins. Ken Dill demonstrated how proteins, rather than blindly sampling their vast number of spatial configurations, slide down a rugged, yet hierarchical, configurational landscape – a free-energy “funnel” – toward a well-defined free energy minimum corresponding to the folded state, thus accounting for the then-paradoxically fast kinetics of protein folding. These achievements became cornerstones in our understanding of protein structure and folding.





Prof. Michael Elowitz from the Departments of Biology, Bioengineering, and Applied Physics at California Institute of Technology, and investigator in Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Citation: Elucidating the physical principles of living cells by pioneering the field of synthetic biology and demonstrating the important role of stochastic fluctuations in cells and tissues.


Michael Elowitz pioneered the field of Synthetic Biology by designing and building the repressilator, a synthetic genetic oscillator composed of repressor genes. His work demonstrated that a mathematical understanding of biological circuits enables the deliberate design of new complex dynamical behaviors in cells. Synthetic biology is now commonly used to understand biological systems by reconstructing them, and to engineer new cellular functions for biomedical applications. A second field Michael Elowitz has pioneered is the study of ‘noise’ or stochastic fluctuations within cells. This work established unambiguously that variations in protein levels could arise from underlying stochastic fluctuations in the process of gene expression, due in part to low molecular concentrations within the cell. He later demonstrated the important functional roles these fluctuations play in enabling specific cellular behaviors. Noise is now recognized as a pervasive physical principle of biological circuits in virtually every context from bacteria to mammalian cells.





Research Field: "Mesoscopic physics of cellular phenomena".


Prof. Tuomas Knowles

Dept. of Chemistry, The University of Cambridge, UK


For elucidating physical principles of amyloid fibril formation with important applications in biology and medicine








Research Field: "Physical Principles of Biological Systems".


Prof. Jacques Prost

Curie Institute, CNRS, France & National University of Singapore


 For Seminal Contributions to Physics of Active Soft Matter and their Applications to Intra-Cellular Processes 





Prof. Michael G. Rossmann

Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, USA


For Pioneering Contributions to High-Resolution Diffraction Analysis of Atomic Structures of Proteins and Viruses







Research Field: "Mesoscopic physics of cell structure and dynamics".


Prof. Stephan Grill

Biotechnology Center ,Technical University, Dresden, Germany


 For outstanding contributions to physics of intracellular acto-myosin networks including the discovery of the mechanism of chiral morphogenesis in cell development




Prof. Nieng Yan

School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, Beijing P.R. China


For seminal contributions to structural biology of crucial membrane proteins including the landmark human glucose transporter GLUT1







Research Field: Physical Principles of Biological Systems


Prof. Howard C. Berg

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology,

The Rowland Institute, Harvard University, USA,



For pioneering contributions to understanding the physical mechanisms of bacterial motion and chemotaxis.



Prof. George Oster

Department of Molecular & Cell. Biology and Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, University of California, Berkeley, USA



For discovery of physical principles behind intracellular force generation in cell motility, morphogenesis and biological pattern formation.

Photo: Julie Van Scoy



Research Field: Physical Principle of Biological Systems


Prof. Carlos Bustamante

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Department of Physics,

Department of Chemistry, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute,
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3220, USA


For his seminal contributions to single molecule biophysics.



Prof. Wolfgang Helfrich

Department of Physics, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany



For his pioneering contributions to the foundation of biophysics of lipid bilayers and biological membranes.




Research Field: Innovative Physical Techniques in Biology


Prof. Stephen R. Quake
Dept. of Bioengineering and Dept. of Applied Physics, Stanford University, USA


For his seminal contributions to the development of microfluidic methods for biophysics and structural biology of proteins and nucleic acids.



Prof. Xiaowei Zhuang
Dept. of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Dept. of Physics, Harvard University, USA


For her seminal contributions to the invention, development and biophysical applications of Stochastic Optical Reconstruction Microscopy (STORM) and related methods of super resolution microscopy.




Research Field: Physics of Biomolecular Interactions


Dr. Gerhard Hummer
Theoretical Biophysics Section, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA


For his seminal contributions to the study of the hydrophobic effect and its contribution to protein interactions and assemblies.



Prof. Yigong Shi
School of Life Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China


For his seminal contributions to the study of protein interactions underlying molecular mechanisms of apoptosis (programmed cell death.)






Research Field: Physics of Structure Formation and Self-Assembly of Proteins and Nucleic Acids


Prof. David A. Baker
Department of Biochemistry, University of Washington, Seattle, USA


For his seminal contributions to computational studies of protein folding, structure and reactions.


Prof. Martin Gruebele
Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA


For his seminal contributions to experimental studies of fast processes mediating the structural dynamics of complex biomolecular system.


Prof. Jonathan S. Weissman
Departments of Cellular & Molecular Pharmacology and Biochemistry & Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, USA


For his seminal contributions to the study of protein folding in the formation and transmission of prions.






Research Field: Biophysics of Molecular and Cell Dynamics


Prof. Clare M. Waterman-Storer
The Scripps Research Institute, Department of Cell Biology, La Jolla, California; and Laboratory of Cell and Tissue Morphodynamics, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA


For her seminal contributions to the field of Cellular Biophysics: methodology for quantitative characterization of intracellular dynamics of cytoskeleton and focal adhesions.


Prof. Frank Jülicher
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany


For his seminal contributions to the field of the physics of non-equilibrium bio-cellular systems such as molecular motors, active membranes, filaments and the cytoskeleton.





Research Field: Physics of Biological Molecules and Assemblies


Dr. Harvey T. McMahon
Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge


For his seminal contributions to the field of Cell Biophysics: regulation of membrane dynamics by proteins and molecular mechanisms of endocytosis.



Prof. Paul R. Selvin
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Physics, USA


For his seminal contributions to the study of Single Molecule Biophysics: development of novel tools for studying atomic-scale conformational changes in biological macromolecules.


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