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NU prof wins $500K prize for invention

Northwestern University researcher Chad Mirkin, one of the world’s leaders in nanotechnology research and its application, has been awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for 2009.


Northwestern University researcher Chad Mirkin, one of the world’s leaders in nanotechnology research and its application, has been awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for 2009.

For Mirkin, good things come in small packages — specifically one billionth of a meter in size.

His nanotechnology innovations are seen to have the potential to transform the future of medical diagnostics and patient point-of-care and to ignite change across many industries, from semiconductors to health care.

The Lemelson-MIT Program recognizes outstanding inventors. Mirkin, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern, is being honored for his revolutionary discoveries and sizable contributions to science and invention.

He will accept the prize and make a presentation about his work Friday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the Lemelson-MIT Program’s third annual EurekaFest, a multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit.

Mirkin is the author of 380 manuscripts and more than 350 patents and applications. He is listed as the third most-cited chemist over the last decade and the most-cited nanomedicine researcher in the world.

Mirkin also is professor of medicine, chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering.

Mirkin is best known for the invention, development and commercialization of two revolutionary technologies: the nanoparticle-based medical diagnostic assays underlying the FDA-approved Verigene IDTM system, and Dip-Pen Nanolithography, an ultra-high-resolution molecule-based printing technique.

Both inventions were born, in part, out of Northwestern’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, funded by the National Science Foundation, and were conceived, managed and directed by Mirkin. His research at the university, with the help of Northwestern graduate students and colleagues, has formed the basis of several start-up companies that are helping to bring his inventions from the lab to the market.

Current medical diagnostic tools make it challenging to detect molecules circulating in the human bloodstream that provide early warning signs of disease. Mirkin invented a highly precise method of identifying low concentrations of disease-signifying molecules. “In the case of proteins, the test can be thousands of times more sensitive than any commercial protein detection system out there and has the power to revolutionize medical diagnostics,” Mirkin said.

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