August 08, 2023

The Welch Foundation Announces 2023 Welch Award Recipient

Houston, TX – August 8, 2023 -- The Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s largest sources of private funding for basic chemical research, announces Professor Jacqueline K. Barton as the 2023 recipient of the renowned Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. Professor Barton is a leading figure in the chemical sciences who has made major advances in our fundamental understanding of molecular-level processes that support human life, to the benefit of humankind. With this award, she is being recognized for her ground-breaking work on the use of inorganic coordination complexes to target local DNA structures and to study charge transport through DNA.

“The work that Professor Barton has completed over the last four decades could not ring truer with the goal of our foundation: to improve, enhance, and positively change the lives of those everywhere through the advancement of chemical research,” said Douglas Foshee, Chair and Director, The Welch Foundation Board of Directors. “The strides she has made in helping our community understand and better treat life-altering conditions are unrivaled, and the honor of including her among our distinguished list of recipients is all ours.”

Professor Barton is the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry Emerita and served as the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. Since the start of her research career in the mid-1970’s as a graduate student, the core of Professor Barton’s research concerns deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the polymeric, double-helical genetic material that serves as the hereditary blueprint for all life forms, including humans. One avenue of her research has centered on molecular recognition of DNA sequences according to their local shape, leading to potential drug candidates based on metal complexes. Another avenue of her research focuses on long-range electron transport in DNA. This research has, subsequently, led to the development of diagnostic applications, distinguishing normal DNA to mutant DNA. The overwhelming significance of her work has profoundly affected the way the biochemistry and medical community view the biomolecules of life. The chemistry has since been applied in the development of DNA-based electrochemical sensors and explored in the context of long range signaling within the cell.

“Prior to the work of Professor Barton, the electrical conductivity properties of DNA were largely unknown and not well-understood,” said Catherine J. Murphy, Chair, The Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “Through her dedicated and extensive research, Jackie was one of the first people to demonstrate the ability of DNA to support surprisingly efficient charge transport, -- moreover, her lab has made pivotal discoveries that suggest that this charge-transport ability of DNA may be a fundamental function of DNA, in addition to its primary job of carrying genetic information. In what is perhaps some of her most important and life-changing work to date, Professor Barton has effectively shown that even one base-pair mistake greatly inhibits the ability of the double helix to conduct charge; this discovery holds tremendous value for future clinical developments, to detect such damaged DNA at early stages.”

Professor Barton completed her undergraduate degree form Barnard College, where she was awarded the A.B. summa cum laude in 1974. She continued her education with a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at Columbia University in 1978 in the laboratory of S. J. Lippard. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Bell Laboratories and Yale University with R. G. Shulman, she became an assistant professor at Hunter College, City University of New York. In 1983, she returned to Columbia University, becoming an associate professor of chemistry and biological sciences in 1985 and professor in 1986. In the fall of 1989, she joined the faculty at Caltech. From 1997 to 2016 she held the Arthur and Marion Hanisch Memorial Professorship. In 2009, she began her term as Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Professor Barton has received numerous awards including the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation (1985), the Fresenius Award (1986), the American Chemical Society (ACS) Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry (1987), the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1988), the ACS Baekeland Medal (1991), the ACS Garvan Medal (1992), the ACS Tolman Medal (1994), the Havinga Medal (1995), the Paul Karrer Medal (1996), the ACS Nichols Medal (1997), the Weizmann Women & Science Award (1998), the ACS Breslow Award in Biomimetic Chemistry (2003), the ACS Gibbs Medal (2006), the ACS Cotton Medal (2007), the ACS Linus Pauling Medal (2007), the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (2015), the Pupin Medal (2017), and the Van't Hoff Award (2017).

She was named a fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, and an NSF Presidential Young Investigator. She is a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1991) and she has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the American Philosophical Society (2000), the National Academy of Sciences (2002) and the National Academy of Medicine (2012), along with an honorary fellowship in the Royal Society of Chemistry (2014). She has received ten honorary degrees including Yale University (2005) and Columbia University (2010). She also received university medals from Barnard College (1990) and Columbia University (1992). She has served the chemical community through her participation in ACS, government, and industrial boards, most notably serving as a member of the Board of Directors for Dow, Inc. for a record 28 years. Based upon her industrial board service, she was named an Outstanding Director by ODX (2006). In October 2011, she received the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Obama. In 2015, she received the ACS Priestley Medal, the highest award given by the American Chemical Society. Most recently, she has received the 2019 National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences for “pioneering research on the chemistry of DNA”.

Since 1954, the Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed more than $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental research grants, endowed chairs and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas. The purpose of the Robert A. Welch Award is to foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize, in a substantial manner, the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of humankind as set forth in the will of Robert Alonzo Welch. Upon accepting the award, Professor Barton will receive $500,000 and a gold medallion. For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Welch Award recipients, please visit


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