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#AMBF40years: A Conversation with Dr. Chad Mirkin

#AMBF40years: A Conversation with Dr. Chad Mirkin

  • Tuesday, May 15, 2018

 

Then: 1992 Beckman Young Investigator Award Recipient, Northwestern University
Now: Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, and Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University

AMBF: When you heard about the Beckman Young Investigator opportunity, what inspired you to apply?

CM: I have always been interested and engaged in research at the interface of disciplines, especially chemistry, the life sciences, and nanoscience. I have been drawn to high-risk, high-reward research that, if successful, stands to significantly change or open new fields within existing ones and move science and humanity forward. In that way, my personal goals were well-aligned with those of the BYI Program. In addition, I loved the emphasis that the BYI program put on inventiveness – a trait I admired in Arnold Beckman.

AMBF: What was your research focused on? What were the results?

CM: At that time, I was working with modified interfaces, and the patterning of molecules and materials on surfaces (especially those composed of carbon and iron-based moieties) in precise ways. Ultimately, my goal was to use these substrates for molecular electronics studies and as novel chemical and biological sensors. This work helped lay the foundation for a major invention in the lab – Dip Pen Nanolithography, a technique that became widely used by researchers and laid the foundation for most commercial forms of scanning probe lithography.

AMBF: What effect did being named a Beckman Young Investigator have on your career?

CM: Being named a Beckman Young Investigator helped transform my career – first and foremost it gave me confidence and a feeling that at least one group considered me to be in the cohort of the most promising young scientists of the day. In addition, the program funded many of my early investigations into molecular surface patterning, sensing, and nanomaterials assembly that would form the basis of lines of inquiry in my group that persist to this day and that have formed the basis of hundreds of publications and patents. Indeed, I owe my success as a scientist, in part, to the Beckman Foundation. Finally, I made life-long connections and friendships with other scientists, who continue to impact my career and inspire me.

AMBF: Do you have any advice for PI’s thinking about applying?

CM: It is a wonderful program, and I would strongly encourage any young PI to apply.

AMBF: What was the most memorable part about being awarded as a Beckman Young Investigator? Did you have the chance to meet Dr. Beckman?

CM: I gave a talk on my work at the Beckman Foundation in Irvine, California in 1993 on some of my results. It was one of my first invited talks as a faculty member and an invaluable learning experience for me as a young professor. I recall being sandwiched between one of the world’s most accomplished young paleontologists and a neuroscientist -- a remarkable speaking lineup I had never encountered before. I did have a chance to meet Dr. Beckman; he was a gracious and inspiring man, an inspiration and role model for all scientists and inventors. Oddly enough, he thanked me for providing him with a good way to spend his money.

 

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