Carolyn Bertozzi, a professor at Stanford, shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with colleagues from the University of Copenhagen and Scripps Research for their contributions to the fields of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.
The roughly $1 million award was split between Bertozzi, a chemistry professor and the director of the campus’ Sarafan ChEM-H, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless Ph.D. ’68. Her work involves cell mapping using bioorthogonal processes; her findings are fundamental to advances in healthcare, particularly in cancer treatment but also with other uses.
Bertozzi joins Professor of Econometrics Guido Imbens (2021 Nobel Laureate in Economics) as Stanford’s 36th Nobel Laureate. Interviewees remarked that Bertozzi’s accomplishment was a career highlight and an example for other women and LGBTQ individuals in STEM. Of the 189 Nobel laureates in chemistry, only eight are women. Bertozzi is one of them.
Bertozzi told The Daily, “[Eight women] is not a great amount, but I’m quite hopeful because there’s so much talent,” adding that she feels “extremely happy” to be one of the women who will split the award this year. “Then I have a stage on which to continue pushing in the correct way,” he said.
In a statement to the University and in the Stanford Report, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne extended his congratulations to Bertozzi.
He exclaimed to the Stanford News, “I could not be happier that Carolyn Bertozzi has received the Nobel Prize in chemistry.” Carolyn, by creating bioorthogonal chemistry, “helped scientists throughout the world develop a greater knowledge of chemical interactions in biological systems.”
Bertozzi was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and went on to earn a summa cum laude degree in chemistry from Harvard in 1988. She earned her doctorate in chemistry from UC Berkeley in 1993 and did postdoctoral work at UC San Francisco afterward. After teaching at UC Berkeley beginning in 1996, she moved to Stanford in 2015.
The victory comes a few days before Bertozzi’s 56th birthday on Monday.
During her interview with them, Bertozzi said that a member of the Nobel committee had informed her, “You have 50 minutes to calm yourself and wait till your life changes.”
Bertozzi told The Daily outside the Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning (STLC) that she was initially frightened that the uproar signaled calamities, such as the lab catching fire or a family issue, but that she was then overcome with pleasure upon hearing the news. Fortunately, it turned out to be really exciting news when the phone rang.
She explained that she had been fast asleep when her phone began ringing repeatedly at 1:43 a.m. (“I have a screenshot on my phone to recall”) and that it had taken her some time to awaken. However, it should be noted that he presided as chairman of the Nobel Committee. The realization that “Oh my gosh, this is actually happening” crept up on me gradually.
Bertozzi claimed the experience was so out of the ordinary that she had to shake her head to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. And [the Nobel Committee] was filling me in on the details of the next steps. To be honest, I can’t recall a single word they spoke.
Following the news’s release, Bertozzi found himself in a state of “non-stop” activity. Reporters and photographers from numerous news outlets, as well as Stanford’s communications staff, arrived at her door within minutes. She has also conducted Zoom interviews with the AP, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe. (Bertozzi, who is from Massachusetts, noted that her hometown newspaper, The Globe, paid a visit and described it as “extraordinary.”)
Sharon Long, a professor of biology at Stanford, and a close friend of Bertozzi’s was among the many on campus to celebrate his victory. Bertozzi and his friend met in San Francisco during his postdoctoral fellowship. Specifically, Bertozzi explored the significance of sulfation on a glycan found on the surface of mammalian cells, whereas Long’s group investigated “a bacterial biosynthetic mechanism that involves sulfation.”
“Reading much beyond her expertise,” Long wrote in an email, “she discovered that one of our enzymes may be a helpful reagent.” Even as a postdoc, she showed the originality, ingenuity, and willingness to take risks that are hallmarks of her whole body of work. She has the ability to recognize the most pressing issues and devise novel solutions to make it feasible to conduct the most crucial tests.
Green Ahn, a sixth-year chemistry Ph.D. student, and Gabby Tender, a fifth-year chemistry Ph.D. student, both echoed Bertozzi’s excitement about the victory. “Explorations at the interface of chemistry and biology will spawn novel medications and diagnostics that improve human health, tools for probing natural biology, and roadmaps for developing synthetic forms of life tailored to serve human needs,” is the stated goal of the lab’s research.
Incredibly encouraging and constantly giving a significant lot of credit to her mentees, Bertozzi has left an indelible impression on the lab, according to one of her mentees, Ahn.
With the skills they’ve learned in her lab, her mentees may go on to do great things as scientists even after their time with her has ended, said Ahn. Her determination to improve human health through chemical means is an inspiration to us all.
Specifically, Tender noted that as a woman working in the lab, she values Bertozzi’s “dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion” as much as she does Bertozzi’s dedication to the science being done there.
“As a gay Ph.D. student in her lab, Carolyn has long been a personal and scientific role model of mine,” Tender added. “She has delivered seminars about her personal and professional experiences to young gay scientists on campus, making many of us feel both supported and heard.”
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