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National Science Foundation

Peter B. Dervan (1945 )

Peter B. Dervan
Peter B. Dervan
Credit: Lance Hayashida, Caltech

National Medal of Science recipient in 2006 "for his fundamental research contributions at the interface of organic chemistry and biology, and for his influence in education and industrial innovation."

"In research, what's important is not the answer, it's finding the right questions."

Peter B. Dervan, a native of Boston, Mass., studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Boston College and earned his Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry from Yale University in 1972.

He accepted a postdoctoral position at Stanford University, joining a synthetic chemistry group there. But, less than a year into his postdoc research, Dervan was offered and accepted a full-time position at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). While there, Dervan decided that his current area of study would not be sufficient for a lifetime of research; therefore, he sought to develop his own field. His early experiments were successful, and he is now credited with pioneering the physical organic approach to DNA recognition.

"In research, what's important is not the answer, it's finding the right questions."

--Peter B. Dervan

Though he has been at Caltech for almost four decades, Dervan has stayed close to his Yale roots. Both of his children are Yale graduates, and his wife, Jacqueline Barton, a fellow National Medal of Science recipient, holds an honorary degree.

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