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




Prof.  Clifford P. Brangwynne, HHMI Investigator, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University, USA. 

For his contribution to cellular biophysics, and specifically for his pioneering work identifying how membrane-less organelles assemble through liquid-liquid phase separation to form condensed droplets inside cells.




Prof. Philipp Kukura, Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford, UK

For his contribution to imaging techniques in biophysics, and specifically for developing fluorescence-free methods to accurately measure individual biomolecules in solution.







Prof. Samuel (Sam) Safran, Department of Chemical and Biological Physics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.

For his decisive contributions to the understanding of the structure and dynamics of cells and their interactions with their physical environment.

Samuel (Sam) Safran has played a pivotal role in the application of the statistical mechanics and dynamics of soft matter to cellular activity and function. He combines methodologies and insights from soft-matter physics with knowledge of biological macromolecules and membranes to develop analytical, predictive theories of complex biological phenomena. These include, in particular, the development of cell mechano-biology – how cells interact with their environment and with other cells using active mechanics. 




Prof. Shimon Weiss, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UCLA, USA

For his decisive contributions as pioneering, the development of single-molecule methods for probing fundamental biological processes at the nanometer scale.

Prof. Shimon Weiss has pioneered the development of single-molecule biophysical methods that have profoundly affected the understanding of biological processes at the molecular scale. Among his main contributions are the development of single-molecule Forster-resonance-energy-transfer (smFRET) for in situ determination of molecular distances between different parts of nucleic acids and proteins; the invention of fluorescent quantum dots for probing biological processes in living system; and the development of one of the most subtle and powerful approaches to super-resolution optical microscopy, based on the inherent fluctuations of fluorescent probes. The methods developed by Prof. Weiss have now become standard techniques in many labs worldwide and have led to fundamental discoveries in biology.        






Prof. Robert B. Best, Computational Biophysics Section, Laboratory of Chemical Physics NIDDK, National Institutes of Health, USA 

For his decisive contributions to the understanding of protein structure and dynamics.

Robert Best has reached several key discoveries concerning protein folding and association, using mainly atomistic Molecular Dynamics simulations. These include the relation between transient misfolded intermediates and protein aggregation, the crucial role of native contacts in folding mechanisms, and the structure and association of intrinsically disordered proteins. In addition, he introduced critical improvements to the force fields used in such atomistic simulations, from which innumerable other studies have benefited.




Prof. Margaret Gardel, Department of Physics, Director of James Franck Institute, University of Chicago, USA

For her decisive contributions to elucidate the biophysical principles underlying the forces that shape cells and tissues.

Margaret Gardel’s most significant achievements have centered around establishing the biophysical underpinnings of cell adhesion, contractility, migration and matrix stiffness sensing. In particular, she has been a leader in developing new understanding of how the physical properties of the cell emerge from the mechanics of the actin cytoskeleton. She has also developed novel experimental tools for studying and measuring forces in cells and in in-vitro reconstituted systems.






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

For his 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 

For his decisive contributions to elucidate 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.







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







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









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










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





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.







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.








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.)








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.








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.







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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